Street Life Studies 2015


In a moment of time when the balance between the public and the private is shifting in favor of the latter, it is important that a close eye is kept on the status of the public spaces in our cities. Vital public space tends to emerge as  a product of numerous competing forces. Planning guidelines, levels of regulation and attitudes can strangle or let flourish the behaviours which enliven these areas so key to cities.
This course is an opportunity to better understand the potentials and limitations of these diverse conditions. It can be argued that the vitality of public spaces hinges on their ability to facilitate a diversity of, often unexpected, usages and interactions, by a broad spectrum of people over a wide range of time. This course suggests that the street, as the fundamental public space of the city, is where this activity can and should occur.
Not without their challenges, Phnom Penh streets are clear examples of diverse urban dwellers playing out their lives in the public domain, much appropriated and loosely regulated. In Sydney, this kind of mixed informal activity is much less apparent and the centre of the city is largely a vehicular dominated zone for weekday commerce.
The current revitalisation of key CBD zones proposes a shift from this.

A small publication summarising the activities and works of the studio elective was produced. Please see PDF here Public Space and the Informal


Learning centres around the role of design in activating street life. There is an emphasis on evidence-based design thinking from ‘real life’ observation and critical analysis.

Students conduct a series of observational studies in two key city thoroughfares in Sydney and Phnom Penh; George St  and St 19. They observe, analyse and graphically communicate spacio-behavioural patterns in each location.

This comparative analysis presents a series of design opportunities for small scale urban intervention proposals in each location. How can precedents from Phnom Penh be intelligently translated to inform design ideas in the changing Sydney CBD…and vice versa?


George St, Sydney + St 19 Phnom Penh : central city thoroughfares

st 19 phnom penh
St 19 Phnom Penh
george st sydney
George St Sydney
george st st 19

PART 1: Observational exercises

Using your street diary, complete a series of observational exercises in Sydney and Phnom Penh. The exercises will be the same in each city and will rely on monitoring of both the built and the behavioural environments over extended periods of time. 

Exercise 1: First impressions of the street

To capture the ‘strong’ or more prominent facets of place which are evident in a quick first visit, and filter out unnecessary information to ensure a clear focus. Reference ‘Image of A City’ and ‘Learning from Las Vegas’.


Sydney: traffic, circulatory movement, scale
Phnom Penh: motorbikes, food preparation eating selling

Exercise 2: Textures of the street

To explore the role of the tactile sense in place, analysing small scale textures on the street. Observe and record all noticeable textures, noting the object they refer to and their relationship to behaviour/usage.


Despite building textures in Sydney being somewhat varied those of the sidewalk are homogenous. In Phnom Penh the floor finish is much more adaptable by the associated building owner. In a visual sense, this tends to break down the scale of the street and functionally it helps in understanding various building programs and owners.

Exercise 3: Smells of the street

To explore the role of the olfactory sense in place, analysing the spectrum and intensity of ‘smell-scapes’ in the street. Observe and map noticeable smells, noting the place/object they refer to and their relationship to behaviour/usage.


Like sound and texture, smells in Phnom Penh are much more heterogeneous and an indicator of what is going on inside. 

Exercise 4: Sounds of the street

To gain awareness of the acoustic components of place over a period of time. Observe and map noticeable sounds, noting the place/object they refer to and their relationship to behaviour/usage.


Sydney street sounds are generated largely by traffic which often dominates the ability to have a conversation. In Phnom Penh, a similar situation occurs but sound is also used to communicate building functions and various mobile services….hot boiled eggs, rubbish collections etc.

Exercise 5: Facade adaptations

To analyze, in fine detail, the planned and unplanned elements of a facade. How is the facade appropriated by its users? Draw a facade, noting both the planned and the unplanned elements in one or two drawings.


In Sydney, there is very little opportunity for the adaptation of facades. They generally remain as originally planned. The opposite is the case in Phnom Penh where signs of internal life are expressed via decor, moveable objects, and activity occurring on the facades of buildings.

Exercise 6: A slice of street activity

To analyze, in detail, the relationship between typical boundaries in a street section and the human activities hosted at these junctions. Draw a section through the building, footpath and road. Observe and record the ways in which different thresholds affect human activities and interactions.


In Sydney the delineations between private building space, public sidewalk and road are very clear, with little direct interaction. In Phnom Penh the relationship between internal space and external sidewalk space is much closer – activities, objects and conversations spill over. With the rise of the vehicle the road becomes more and more separate.

Exercise 7: Activities of the street

To analyze and map particular human behaviors on the street, and their relationship to physical attributes, over contrasting time periods. Observe and record all of the ACTIVITIES, SYSTEMS AND APPROPRIATIONS that occur on your block, at MORNING DAY NIGHT.


The street in Phnom Penh works in a similar manner to facades, appropriated throughout the day with changing activities and users and their associated objects. This changeability is much less apparent in Sydney where program is much more fixed and the sidewalk is utilised for the most part for quick circulation from one point to another with little opportunity for stopping or other activity.

Exercise 8: Street movements

To analyze and map movement patterns on the street over contrasting time periods, do slower speeds and longer rests indicate a more user friendly space? Focus on one small area of your block in which to monitor and record paths of movement and stasis.


In Sydney there is a faster and more consistent average pace. This again can be attributed to sidewalks being used for circulation only. Phnom Penh displayed a much wider range of speeds and stop start movements as the sidewalk is a place for walking but also stopping, siting, talking, eating etc.

Exercise 9: A day in the life of a street object…

To analyse the multiple and changing ways that a particular object in the street can be used and appropriated. Select one object/small area to observe 20 times over a 24hr period, record the object and its usages.


Objects in both cities were appropriated in a range of different ways, beyond their intended use. This was probably more apparent in Phnom Penh where there seems to be greater acceptance of various activities (sleep, eat, play etc) in the public realm. A range of both moveable and fixed objects on the sidewalk can be one means of instigating a greater range of activity and user.

Exercise 10: Citizens of the street

To take a bottom up approach and gather opinions from street users on their perceptions of the street. Interview several street users with three ‘100yr test’ questions: what would you like to see stay/go/change in the next 100 years?


Sydney: stay-heritage buildings, go – traffic, add – greenery and seating 

Phnom Penh: stay- street food, go – traffic and sidewalk parking, add – greenery and shade 

PART 2: Design brief generation

From the observational exercises in Sydney and Phnom Penh, develop a design brief with the overall aim of increasing street vitality in Sydney.

“Phnom Penh streets and buildings are typically very heterogeneous in terms of program/function. How might increased programmatic mix contribute to a more heterogenous demographic of street users and usages in George St?” Ellen Williams

“St 19 in Phnom Penh is active from early morning until the late hours of the night, with shifting appropriations often temporary in nature. In George St, clubbers are left with very few places to go in the early hours of the morning for a quick bite/chat. How might these late night users be provided with a food space in George St outside of the clubs? Sam Phan

“In St 19 Phnom Penh sound, both in fixed and moving locations, is used to denote various services and building functions. In George St, signage largely plays this role. How might sound be manipulated to aid in way-finding in George St?” Lucy Chen

“Phnom Penh St 19 displays an array of floor textures. Largely these have been installed by the corresponding ground floor tenant or owner. The textures allow street commerce providers to take ownership and to denote their shop to users…almost in the sense that separate buildings do. George St is much more homogenous in floor finish on the publicly maintained footpath. How might a looser approach to facade/footpath appropriation allow building tenants to become more civically engaged and provide more differentiation in the streetscape? Madison Fay

PART 3: Urban Acupuncture

From your observational exercises and design brief, develop a small scale urban intervention for the NEW George St pedestrian/light rail zone. The overall aim should be to increase street vitality; cumulatively this means the street will be a place for multiple users and usages over multiple time periods.

Pop up skatepark – Benita Xi Chen

Many ground floor plazas along George Street are deserted during night hours. With their flat expanses, handrails and steps, these spaces provide and ideal location for the many skaters who utilise these types of urban environments in the city center. The aim of this intervention is to activate these areas at night by introducing an interactive pop-up skate park that is assigned to a particular skate shop or organization to manage. In the day the modular elements could be reused as streetside furniture.

Urban canopy – Grady Wang

There is little connection between the activity in the upper levels of buildings with that occurring on the street. This relationship is one which is much stronger in Phnom Penh where windows and balconies are used appropriated by users in a manner very visible from the street. The aim of this interventions is to increase street vitality by improving visual and acoustic connections between people on the sidewalk and in the building.

Street food vendor – Sarah Ianson

George St footpaths between 12-2pm on a weekday are used largely for direct circulation from point a to point b by a small demographic: male business workers. Phnom Penh presents a very different scenario; a broad demographic who stop to eat on the street sidewalks. How might this type of activity occur in George St?

Studio activities

Studio publication

A small publication summarising the activities and works of the studio elective was produced. Please see PDF here Public Space and the Informal

Aaron Lauder Jones, Alexandra Honan, Ariane Easton, Benita Xi Chen, Dominika Dome, Ellen Williams, Geran Atkinson, Grady Wang, Henry Zheng, Holly Payne, Lalitha Balasubramanian, Leviang Teng, Lucy Chen, Madeleine Lloyd, Madison Fay,Peter Mitchell, Phoebe Nicol, Samuel Phan, Sarah Ianson,Tatum Hayek,Vanessa Crookson.

Eva Lloyd: course coordinator
Richard Briggs: course tutor
Giacomo Butte: course tutor
Bruce Edward Watson: Director Interior Architecture

Ya Chan Nary, Sok Leng, Ing Samnang, Tang Monireach, Iv Sokunchankrisna, Chhay Phally, Sok Sopheap, Hun Sokagna, So Vitou, Seang Satya, Lim Bunhak, Sing Bunny,Tiv By Kimlean, Mean Pisei, Ly Sreypich, Sok Sovannara,Moeun Phollida,Hor Daro

Professor Kong Kosal: Dean of Faculty
Karno Chay: Vice Dean of Faculty
Phal Piseth: logistical assistance
Hong Leakhena: logistical assistance
Paul Robinson: logistical assistance

SaSa Art Projects
Develop Boeng Kok Arts
Khmer Architecture Tours