Designing Global Sydney: The negotiation of public and private interests

This research project is situated at the interface of planning policy, urban design and planning history. It assesses the contribution of design-led policy in reconciling private ambitions for economic growth with aspirations for quality public outcomes in the planning approval processes for major commercial development in the Sydney Central Business District (CBD). Concentrating on the past decade, it examines the changing economic structure of the CBD, links the changing form of the city to evolving design policies, recovers the experiences of participants in the development approval process, and communicates instructive stories at the interface of powerful market forces and the design regime.

The project’s research findings will inform a new urban design history of Sydney CBD, the epicentre of Australia's most globalised city. The project advances, enhances and enriches both theoretical understandings of, and policy approaches to, the challenges posed for planning systems in securing at once productive and liveable futures for Australian cities. Knowledge gained will lead to better urban design outcomes for Australian cities in an increasingly internationalised world.

The research is supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Projects grant, number DP150104054.


Pitt Street Mall


Design Excellence, Competitiveness and Global Sydney: A symposium

Friday 4th November 2016, Sydney CBD

Symposium sponsors: UNSW Built Environment, JBA and the Office of the NSW Government Architect

This half-day symposium comes at a time when there is growing interest in design-led planning and a heightened awareness of the strong links between high-quality built environment design, urban competitiveness and liveability. The forum will explore the importance of a quality built environment in a competitive urban age – what it is, how to get there, the costs, the benefits and models for success.

Please click on the image below to open the symposium primer.

Click here to watch the symposium presentations.

View the symposium highlights here:


Lead Investigator
Professor Robert Freestone (UNSW)          

Chief Investigator
Dr Gethin Davison (UNSW)

Chief Investigator
Associate Professor Richard Hu (University of Canberra)

Research Assistant
Ms Sarah Baker (UNSW)

Design Excellence in Sydney CBD: 15-19 Bent Street and 8-12 Chifley Square


Davison, G., Freestone, R., Hu, R. and Baker, S. (2017). “The impacts of mandatory design competitions on urban design quality in Sydney, Australia”,  Journal of Urban Design, 1-21. doi: 10.1080/13574809.2017.1337497,
A PDF copy of the accepted manuscript for this paper can be downloaded here.

Freestone, R., Davison, G., Hu, R. and Baker, S. (2016) Institutionalising Design Excellence in Central Sydney 1988-2000, International Planning History Society Proceedings 2016,  

Baker, S., Freestone, R., Davison, G. (2016) ‘Public and private benefits of competitive design processes in central Sydney’, International Urban Design Conference Proceedings 2016,

Freestone, R., Davison, G., Hu, R. and Baker, S. (2015) The Regulation of Excellence: Design Competitions in Sydney, State of Australian Cities Conference Proceedings 2015

Desiign Excellence in Sydney CBD: 161-167 Castlereagh Street and 190-200 George Street