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Category Archives For: Innovation

Democratic Cities

SOLid Panel
Last week Julian was invited to speak at a panel discussion run by the SOL:id team at RMIT. The evening was led by Michael Trudgeon of Crowd Productions.

Also on the diverse panel;
Eduardo Velasquez + Angelica Rojas (Flinders Street Station people’s choice winner (Architecture)
Scott Mitchell – Open Object (Industrial Designer)
Eli Giannini – MGS Architects (Architecture/Planning)
Michel Hogan – Brand Analyst (Branding)
Tim Longhurst – Key Message (Futurist)

The panel was asked to unpack the following;

How are our city spaces designed and planned? what is the role of the individual in the urbanisation process?  how do grassroots movements impact upon our cities and the cities of the future? what are the implications of open information exchange and open source design?  is everyone a designer? how can design professions adapt in this context?

The wide range of viewpoints both on the panel and in the audience contributed to a robust discussion on the role of the designer in the future of our cities.
It was put forward that perhaps cities succeed and thrive organically – and quite often our best design efforts are where we don’t design a built outcome.

TEDx Sydney: Joost Bakker’s Straw House

At TEDx Sydney recently I was lucky enough to witness presentations and performances from some incredible forward thinkers and doers. Among lawyers, activists, mathematicians, archivists and political scientists was Joost Bakker; a Dutch born creative operating out of Melbourne. I say creative because Joost’s range of skills are hard to pin down with one word. With a beginning in floristry, he is now designing structures, as well as concepts for ‘closed loop’ sustainable restaurants.

No one needs to be reminded of the devastating affects of bushfire in this country. Sitting at the Sydney Opera House surrounded by water on a cool day, it was hard to imagine the intensity of CSIRO’s fire test on one of Joost’s projects… until he showed us the fire test carried out on his straw house prototype. Reaching external temperatures of 1000 degrees celsius after 30 minutes of ‘major fire front’ testing, the internal temperature peaked at only 35. This classified the straw building as a bunker.

Magnesium oxide board was used to clad the straw house, and the 38 metre square structure was erected in only 7 days. The test was carried out to get the go ahead for a home being built By Joost in the Victorian Otways, an area prone to bushfire.

You can read more about the test, and watch the video here.

From Lauren Bezzina, Secret Agent Communications. 

Spanish Design

From Create By Secret Agent’s head designer, Julian Faelli

We have started to see a string of interesting architecture and design projects come out of Spain in the recent months. This trend is in spite of the countries economic woes, with Spain now battling a youth unemployment rate of 56.5%.

The struggling economy has pushed young architects and designers to make the best of a bad situation. With a rich architectural history exemplified in the work of Santiago Calatrava and Enric Miralles’s expressive buildings, there is fertile ground and a bold point of departure for today’s architects.

Niu Architectura

Niu Architectura is one such firm, their recent Calvià Running Track is an exercise in restrained yet exciting design. Simple materials used well – it is exciting to see such thorough it’s use of transparency and volume. The dramatic cantilevers and sunken spaces make this humble sports pavilion a real gem.

CSLS Arquitectes

The Girder House by CSLS Arquitectes is a whimsical and light approach to residential accommodation. A bright, white fitout provides a brilliant backdrop for life within the building. The small footprint is negotiated with a hidden kitchen and foldaway bed. It’s a approach that works well with the warm spanish climate, a climate not dissimilar to ours in Australia.

Johnston street has always been the traditional home of Spanish culture in Melbourne, and I wonder if it’s any coincidence AJAR has recently opened a furniture store on Johnston – primarily importing the Spanish Arlex brand. Designed and produced in Barcelona the quality is on par with the established Italian brands. At a competitive price point due to the depressed Euro, AJAR look like they are onto a winner. 


Project Images © José Hevia

Small Spaces – Big Ideas

New (and old) approaches to living in the inner city.

Kent Larson architect and director of MIT’s House_n research group presented at TED last year. He outlined his group’s design ideas to approach the worlds inner city population explosion, of which Melbourne is a participant.

The House_n groups proposals question the nature of what we build and how we occupy our spaces. The current glut of high rise apartment stock is at odds with the strong demand for other typologies of small housing near the city. This suggests that the current apartments offer isn’t attractive to people looking to enter the market.

Kent argues that the ideal model for small aparment living (view from 11 minutes in) is a open loft ‘shell’ containing basic building services, that the tenant can occupy and fit out according to their needs.

His lab is investigating sensor networks that will inform a adaptive and responsive architecture inside the apartment shell. Walls, partitions, joinery and lighting that move and alter. Accommodating radically different uses of the space throughout the week.One can’t help but think that this is a particularly ‘west coast’, overtly technical approach to the problem. A couple of Aussie architects have recently completed studio apartment fitouts with our lifestyle in mind. Architecture Architecture turned their hand to a fitout in the Cairo Apartments, located in the heart of Fitzroy. The 1930’s era 24sqm space is made neat and functional with a well designed joinery unit.




Last years Potts Point apartment fitout by Anthony Gill Architects, looks at another studio apartment under 40sqm. It manages to provide accommodation for young family, small child and their library within the tiny footprint.




In part it’s a return to old ways – both these projects inhabit apartment shells that were built in the past. These small studios with outlook, light, amenity and character look to be the way of the future as well.




Introducing Julian Faelli to the Secret Agent Team. Julian comes from a strong background in architecture, industrial design and project management. He is the head of our design and construction division: Create by Secret Agent.

The Forgotten Side of Progress


For the past century, civilisation has been in a constant mode of progress.

This has meant the creation of super cities that no longer have free land to build on.

We talk a lot about new development, however we talk little about the removal of buildings and demolition.

Over the coming decades we will witness many structures requiring removal. This could be from bad design and planning policies of the past, poor construction quality or the building not servicing the society and it’s needs.

It’s a story being played out in Japan at the moment, one of the world’s most advanced modern cities. In Japan alone, 797 skyscrapers are over 100m tall, with 150 of these skyscrapers aged between 30-40 years. This has prompted companies to innovate new ideas for safe demolition in crowded city districts. Historically this has been the time period when these buildings are earmarked for demolition, however due to the size of these buildings, conventional techniques make the task almost too challenging.

Tai Sei, Kajima and Takenaka are three companies that are pioneering a new way of demolition.

Rather than demolishing the building all at once, these companies remove floor by floor over a period of time. No wrecking ball or explosives.

The process is top down, and from a distance it looks like a building is slowly shrinking. Pictured is the iconic ‘Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka’ missing it’s top thirty metres.

Dust particles are decreased by a factor of 100 compared to conventional methods.

I think we will be seeing much more demolition make way for new structures in Australia over the coming decade. Smart ways of doing this will be important. Even smarter financially and ecologically will be to get the structure right to begin with.

Warming Up The Nest

From the team at Apple that brought you the iPod and the iPhone comes the latest innovation to astound the technology world:

A thermostat!

(Wait, did he say a thermo…)

Yes, a thermostat!

Looking at The Nest Learning Thermostat (NLT for short), I initially wondered why I should even look into what seemed like another iteration of a common household appliance.

Then, they blew me away.

The Nest website really does explain everything to you in a nutshell: their new thermostat is a nifty piece of AI, learning what temperatures are your favourite (over a week, needing this ‘training’ seasonally), when you are out of the house and even what time you wake up so it can switch itself on.

What is fascinating is that the NLT functions using Nest Sense, so when you are out it switches itself off or adjusts to save energy consumption in the house (unlike traditional ones, or the new fangled ones which are impossible to use), of which 50% comes from that small thermostat stuck on your wall (fridges apparently only take up a measly 8% in comparison, go figure). It even has adjusted controls to allow for accelerated or decelerated heating/cooling and the Nest Leaf energy saver indicator can in turn educate you on how to best save energy, since a one degree change in temperature can save up to 5% on your energy bill if implemented in the long run!

Like the famous iProducts, Nest founders Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers have designed the NLT to be avant-garde not only in it’s software but with it’s hardware too, with a ‘chameleon design (that) blends into any wall (by) reflect(ing) any colour’. And what is a new device from the team that brought you the iPod and iPhone without an app to control it remotely?

With the claims on climate change finally ‘substantiated’ in only the more recent years, the world has suddenly gone into a green kick, especially in Australia where Aussie households now have to foot a carbon tax, whether or not you support it. The Nest Team posit that, if ‘taught’ properly, the NLT could save you $173 off your energy bill per annum, which means the tech will effectively ‘pay for itself’ in 17 months.

The NLT: A slice of the future in green technology today, not only saving money but the planet as well as by reducing your carbon footprint, all whilst looking good at the same time. And for all you Melbournians, it should provide a nice, constant micro-climate to come home to, no matter the weather outside.


(For further information, please check out the following videos or the Nest website at Secret Agent is not affiliated or paid to endorse the NLT and only gives it’s fair and honest opinion)

Going green for ‘the green’

An unusual study conducted in the U.S. by the Pacific Northwest Research station has suggested that properties with trees planted on or in the surrounding areas somehow boost the value of the property itself!

In the study, it was observed that rental units with trees on the property experienced an increased valuation of $5 monthly, $21 if the street the unit is situated on is lined with trees and as much as a $13,000 sales price hike if trees are found on the next door neighbour’s property (which was suggested by the utility of shade without the hassle of raking leaves!).

The question to ask is whether this merely relates to a desire for shelter from the meteorological elements or other intrinsic factors. Trees by themselves provide a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide from the surrounding air and thus providing a more oxygen rich environment, and their root systems help to keep soil together, preventing erosion from occurring.

Additionally, on a psychological level, it would make sense that a neighbourhood adorned with healthy trees, lush gardens and well kept lawns would not only suggest that the residents love their homes and neighbourhood but that the neighbourhood as a whole is ‘of the good sort’ to live in.

Whatever the reason, and whether this study is to be believed, there would be no harm in adding a bit of flora to your properties, if not for money then for beauty.

Steve Jobs ; we could learn a thing or two

Just about everyone knows who Steve Jobs is these days.  The leader of Apple,  Steve has a strong focus on design in the products his company helps build.

No different is the new proposed Apple headquarters ( Not Retail ) to be built in California.  The strong focus on efficient building methods, open space and green power moving forward are impressive.

If we could see these bold concepts spreading to our retail, residential and commercial real estate sectors –  we could create a better and more sustainable place for all.

Why cities keep growing

Geoffrey West is one of the worlds great scientists on how cities truly operate.

Geoff discusses his views on how cities grow and the benefits and problems associated witssesh that growth.  A fascinating viewpoint.

Here’s one example :

“The bigger the city, the more wages you can expect, the more educational institutions in principle, more cultural events, more patents are produced, it’s more innovative and so on. Remarkably, all to the same degree. There was a universal exponent which turned out to be approximately 1.15 which translated to English says something like the following:  If you double the size of a city from 50,000 to a hundred thousand, a million to two million, five million to ten million, it doesn’t matter what, systematically, you get a roughly 15 percent increase in productivity, patents, the number of research institutions, wages and so on, and you get systematically a 15 percent saving in length of roads and general infrastructure”

So as a city,  you have a choice.  To grow and innovate.  Or retreat and run the risk of total collapse.  It also shows why house prices might increase more rapidly as the city gets bigger and bigger. That’s something we can all understand from each of Australia’s main capital cities.

The ability to use resources for a ‘bulk discount’ applies to the makeup of a city.  Yet Geoff warns that you can’t have the growth of wealth,  without the growth of other nasty elements.

The Backyard Cottage

If you have been thinking about buying a rental property, you may want to consider your backyard. Backyard cottages, more commonly known here as granny flats have become a very popular source of income in the USA.

The backyard cottage has taken America by storm, with many people jumping on the bandwagon. It seems users of the backyard cottage come from three groups, grown children moving in behind the family home, homeowners downsizing and renting our the main structure or aging family members who can remain semi-independent.

Could this be the answer for Australian’s to earn extra income? The idea is certainly cheaper than buying a separate investment property, however the rental return here may not be as strong.

For more info on the backyard cottages check out this article.