By 23 February, 2020 February 17th, 2021 No Comments

As CM+ is celebrating its 40th anniversary in September 2020, Bill Morrison, Founding Director reflects on four decades of urban thinking and architecture.

So what do you mean you are an Urban Designer?

These were the words so often addressed to Darrel Conybeare and I when we first started Conybeare Morrison and Partners (now CM+) 40 years ago. No one knew what was meant by urban design and the concept of a multi-disciplinary practice was totally foreign.

We were architects but we came at practice from a different point of view. We were interested in cities, infrastructure and the space between buildings as a forerunner to the design of buildings themselves. It was imperative to us that the big picture be resolved in order to ‘get it right’ in terms of the architecture.

With the landscape profession in its infancy, we were innovators in public domain design and have effectively been ‘Placemaking’ for over four decades. Call it what you like, we set about designing cities at all scales and developed our own techniques of design and presentation, relying heavily on 3D modeling (in the traditional sense) and audio visual presentations.

At the same time, the architectural profession led by international developments was heading in a different direction, exploring free form, sculptural expression and the enigmatic iconic building. A totally different direction, but one which nonetheless required a certain urban design anchor and we were able to provide this, to structure development projects within their urban context.

The Gatehouse, Babworth Estate

North Beach Bathers Pavilion

As a practice we were truly multidisciplinary, combining architecture, urban design, landscape architecture, industrial design, heritage and graphic design. In hindsight it made it difficult for clients to understand or believe what it was that we truly did, but we saw ourselves as designers at all scales, from cities to parks, to park benches, and public art. We were prepared to take on any challenge and we did.

Over this period we have acted for government agencies and private entities and maintained a strong belief in improving  the urban environment for the good of the community and, of course by extension, our clients, taking this approach nationally and internationally.

One of the advantages of our wide ranging services has been that in times of economic recession, and we have seen many, something was always firing to see us through the hard times. This has also created a flexible design team over the years,  not tied down to only one discipline. However, we have always believed in creating our own projects using national events and milestones such as the 1988 Bicentenary and the 2000 Sydney Olympics, as springboards to create project opportunities and provide innovative designs solutions. Of course it is harder to achieve such successes today when everything is so regimented and often the subject of international competitions. It seems as though we may be losing our sense of identity through the pursuit of internationalisation.

We provided innovation in the field of infrastructure as early as 1975 (before the formation of CMP) providing our design services to assist the Victorian Government with the assessment and choice of alternative freeway routes through, or around Geelong, Victoria. We provided another perspective on the public domain, expanding our services to motorway design to augment the conventional engineering approach.

We have carried these ideas through to today, providing an integrated architectural, urban design and landscape design service to authorities, engineering practices and contractors.

Sense of Place

Our work in the public domain has hinged on a deep understanding of place, of history, and heritage as essential ingredients to build upon for future developments. This has involved a level of research and interrogation which perhaps is not as evident within the profession today in the clamour to do something new, put aside the past,  appear creative, and to develop a brand. Something is lost in the continuum of urban development and history with this new approach and while there may be many good results, a lot of opportunities are missed and history will tell as each generation seeks to impose its own version of ‘place’.

Glebe Point Road, NSW

Rose Bay Promenade, NSW

Whilst the practice has evolved and continues to do so, we remain true to our values and the beliefs we established as the foundation of our practice 40 years ago. Today we no longer have to explain the meaning of urban design, it has been built into the lexicon of urban development and adopted in name by so many allied professions and is now being reinvented as Placemaking, to create a differentiator.

We look forward to celebrating the achievements of our 40 years’ in design practice and the future of CM+.

As CM+ commemorates its four decades in the industry, Founding Director Bill Morrison gives you a glimpse of what’s to come in celebration of this big milestone.

Main image: Sydney Showground – Conybeare Morrison, with Philip Cox Architects and Peddle Thorp Architects.

© 2020 CM+ Conybeare Morrison International Pty Ltd