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Cultural infrastructure; Why it matters and how to get it

  • SMC Conference and Function Centre 66 Goulburn Street Sydney Australia (map)

The International Urban Design Conference was held at the SMC Conference and Function Centre, Sydney, NSW from Monday 12 – Wednesday 14 November 2018. 

Held annually since 2007 in Brisbane, Sydney, Gold Coast, Canberra, Adelaide and Melbourne, this conference united a wide range of design professionals to exchange ideas and experiences, to be creative and visionary and to contribute to redesigning our urban futures.

Topics discussed at this year’s event included exploring the potential of mixed use places, spaces and precincts/districts, urban design best practice, designing safety into a city, future proofing, connectivity and design quality outcomes.

UD3: Cultural Infrastructure; Why It Matters and How to Get It (Curation, Curation, Curation) - Mark McClelland


Art creates a better transport experience - for customer and operator.

Mature, progressive democracies serve their people by providing both modern functionality and cultural well-being.

Worldwide, art in transport infrastructure has proven its value as cultural connective tissue; enriching communities, stimulating economic development, and generating identity.
This value comes on top of the practical benefits; research shows that passengers feel safer, are willing to wait longer for connections and even prepared to pay more for their trips in transport infrastructure displaying art.

In cities like New York, London, Stockholm and Brussels cultural programs are well established within public transport networks. While these global programs expand in number and scope, enriching the cultural experience of their cities, much of Australia’s transport infrastructure remains bland and homogenous, leading to a de-humanising customer experience.

As increasing populations drive the development of new public transport networks in Australian cities, we have a once in a generation opportunity to improve the commuter experience. For many people, a daily public transport journey is their primary experience of the city. The nature of that experience provides a very large window into the city’s character; its creativity and values. In short – its culture.

The presentation will cite case studies from New York, Naples, Brussels and London. More specifically, it will showcase the unique knowledge developed by Cultural Capital in authoring the Cultural Masterplan for Australia's largest transport infrastructure project - Sydney Metro City and Southwest. Drawing from these examples it will summarise the benefits of art programs in transport infrastructure and outline a well-designed model for realising them.

The presentation will show how creating this type of cultural infrastructure requires a judicious blend of aspirational vision with operational pragmatism. It will show stunning, uplifting images of spectacular art in transport environments worldwide and then outline a well-formulated model for practical program delivery. The model, based on our work for Sydney Metro and Transport for NSW will encompass program identity and vision, curatorial strategy, commissioning and governance.

Key Learnings:

1. CONTEXT: The presentation will show that if Australian cities are to keep up with their global counterparts in the competition to be desirable, creative places that attract a mobile workforce, they need to express their culture through the new transport networks they are building. If they fail to take up these opportunities, they risk being seen as culturally impoverished. Moreover they miss out on the benefits for both commuters and operators that art brings.

2. EXAMPLES: The presentation will show how comprehensive art programs in transport hubs elevate a city's status, contribute to its identity and deliver a cultural legacy to its people. On a more granular level they make passengers feel safer and cared for by their transport operators and they increase revenue and user satisfaction for the operators. This will be illustrated with great global examples.

3. METHOD: The presentation will outline the elements of a cultural infrastructure masterplan and a procurement methodology that will deliver high quality art, engage commuters and exceed Australian governance requirements.


MARK McCLELLAND Co-founder and creative director of Cultural Capital, Mark is an awarded sculptor and designer and a strategic thinker on urban development, place and culture. Before founding Cultural Capital, Mark founded and led the creative agency DesignTroupe, later part of the PWW group, working in Asia, the Americas and Europe. He has graduated from the College of Fine Arts; Sydney Institute of Design; the University of New England and the Sturt School and also holds qualifications in Environmental Management and Permaculture Design. A member of Place Leaders Australia and a founding Director of the Brisbane Public Art Foundation, Mark has been awarded the prestigious sculpture prize at Sydney’s iconic Sculpture by the Sea. CULTURAL CAPITAL Cultural Capital implements art projects and provides cultural advice to governments and the development industry. The firm has recently delivered the cultural masterplan for Australia's largest transport infrastructure project, Sydney Metro City and Southwest and will soon complete work on the public art masterplan for M5 Westconnex. Cultural Capital provides a suite of services: Art strategy Public art curating Cultural and heritage interpretation Community engagement Cultural planning Producing and programming Artwork delivery In addition to these services Cultural Capital operates as a think-tank, exploring the cultural impacts of urban development. We investigate the best of global cultural infrastructure and bring our research findings to our government and development clients. Our principals write, blog and speak about the cultural impacts of city-making and urban development.