Designing the Streets of Melbourne: Bluestone Lounge Room

Designing the Streets of Melbourne: Bluestone Lounge Room

Curator Michael Trudgeon has packed the City Gallery in the Melbourne Town Hall with a streamlined and informative exhibition, entitled Designing the Streets of Melbourne, that plays itself out as an homage to the pedestrian. Trudgeon tracks the psychogeography of Melbourne City from its initial function as business centre to today’s attempts to make the centre a place for entertainment and interaction, a living city.

The exhibit spills outside onto Swanston street, collating street lights and old park benches, most of which are used by unsuspecting members of the public, not knowing that they are taking part in an exhibit. Lines of delineation show where footpaths used to lay before they were expanded throughout the 1980’s to 1990’s. Rubbish bins sit next to life buoys inside the building, clean and removed from their natural environment. Design plans are displayed for flower stalls and newspaper kiosks, each an attempt to unify the city as a pedestrian-friendly paradise, a paradise now threatened by the current City Council.

Trudgeon presents these overlooked objects as ‘infrastructure’, with a particular focus on the park bench and the various demands a design needs to meet. This is where we get into sticky territory, where the intention behind the exhibit gets into murky territory. There are beautifully displayed photos of water fountains and toilets. In my half hour walk through the city to the exhibition I passed only one of these sleekly designed water fountains. It didn’t work. A similar story goes for the dingy public toilets on the side of the Town Hall, where, let’s face it, no one wants to spend too much time, that is if they are open.

The exhibit though interesting, seems to ignore the fact that fountains, and indeed functioning safe public lavatories are disappearing from the city centre. Benches and rubbish bins are easy to maintain, and therefore emphasised in the exhibit, facilities that need regular cleaning and servicing, are not. By extension, painting this infrastructure’s purpose to be that of servicing the people of Melbourne also whitewashes the tourist capital that is gained from the breezy sidewalk cafes and quirky statues that litter the city, complemented by European-style designed street lamps and benches. The ulterior purpose behind creating a comfortable, cosmopolitan aesthetic for the city through the placement of well designed objects must always have a commercial end, and presenting it as anything else is disingenuous at best.

Designing the Streets of Melbourne: Bluestone Lounge Room

17 July – 30 September
Location: City Gallery at Melbourne Town Hall, 110 Swanston Street (entry through Half Tix)
Entry is free

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