Explore Melbourne with Rob Adams on a Tram

An interview on height limits to force buildings to be like a ‘cake tin’; 'starchitecture' and measuring success in urban places.

Centre Place - Melbourne, VIC, AUS: Image: according to Rob Adams, the more interesting areas of Melbourne between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets are associated with the 40m height limit.Centre Place - Melbourne, VIC, AUS: Image: according to Rob Adams, the more interesting areas of Melbourne between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets are associated with the 40m height limit.

Posted by: Andrew Hammonds

Thanks to By Design

Download this interview with Rob Adams and listen to his views on the city's tourist attractions, architecture and urban design - and get a guided tour on the quintessential City Circle tram!

According to Rob, cities which have height limits (e.g. Berlin and Paris) have a richness of activity. "The older fabric also delivers a diverse rental structure which enable the small and interesting uses."

Geographe St, Melbourne, VIC, AUS: Victoria Harbour has learnt some lessons from Docklands.Geographe St, Melbourne, VIC, AUS: Victoria Harbour has learnt some lessons from Docklands.Jan Gehl tends to agree. After his review of the Dockland development in Melbourne he stated ''the (high rise) residential tower is the lazy architect's answer to density".

Brent Toderian (ex Chief Planner of Vancouver) believes it's more about urban design than height. Tall Tower Debates Could Use Less Dogma, Better Design sums it up well. "I have no problem at all with considering taller buildings, preferably along with other forms and scales. How tall they should be, and how many towers there should be, is an urban design investigation and a conversation with the community and stakeholders. But regardless of their height, towers should land well, activate and enliven the streets and spaces, avoid casting harmful shadows on key public places, be separated to allow light access, privacy and views, and generally be designed very well. If they're not, they shouldn't be approved."

In the interview, Rob Adams criticises the ground plan around the ‘Gherkin’ or the Lloyds Building for impacting on the intimacy in this piece of London. "It is alright if you do this this once - it becomes a monument.  But if you repeat this around the city you start to lose the city. A lot of these star-architects are over-rated - we are now revisiting a past era of tall buildings set in a landscape which have failed."

'The number of people using a place' is Rob's response to the question on how we measure the success of urban places like Docklands. "Streets make up 80% of the city's public place. If people are walking around, having coffee and generally using the place it is a success."  Interestingly, Alan suggests that he can't tell at Docklands.

Idea in Practice

I've 'borrowed' this concept from the excellent resource - A-Z of Urban Design Concepts (and their misuse) by David Lock Associates, Australia.

‘Human scale’ is an oft-quoted but nebulous urban design term. It is regularly put forward as a reason to limit building height. But what is human scale and why is it important?

Perhaps the answer is that it is not about our height, but our field of vision. Is human scale a quality of that part of a building which can be comfortably viewed by a passing pedestrian without craning their neck? Test this out on your traditional mainstreet. Look across the street and see how much building you can see without craning your neck. For a 20m wide street the human eye can easily make out facade details for the height of a 2-storey building. Beyond that it becomes blurred peripheral vision. For 30m wide streets, greater height can obviously be seen, possibly explaining the taller sense of ‘human scale’ in the central city.

So we prefer ‘human scaled’ buildings because they provide visual interest within our field of view. 

What's your view on height, 'starchitecture' and measuring success in urban places.

Updated 25 August 2016

Written Monday, 29 August, 2011

Additional Information

Introduction to Placemaking and Urban DesignWhat type of Placemaking is best for your situation?

Placefocus Articles

Building Heights Glasgow Style - 'The Jeely Piece song'Urban Design tools, tips and techniquesPlacemaking - techniques, tools and ideasOrganisational Placemaking - Innovation and ImprovementOrganisational Placemaking - Transition and Change;  Organisational Placemaking - Culture & StructureThe business of placeThe Strategy of PlacemakingCreative Placemaking - ideas and examples

With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo by thinking differently. More importantly, we aim to enable and empower people to do it themselves.

That's why most of our products are free - articlesinformationtoolstechniques and ideas - available 24/7.

You can also fast-track change with our manualtrainingpresentationsworkshops and advice.

Seeking transformation?

Call Andrew Hammonds on (+617) 3102 1976 or email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Best Viewed

This site is best viewed in 1024 x 768 true color with IE7.0+ or Firefox 3.0+ or Googles Chrome. This site also has video content, so if your able to view sites like Youtube or Vimeo then viewing this site is ok, just be aware of downloading charges by your ISP.