The Exchange at Knowledge Market was a unique urban living lab situated in Victoria Harbour, in Melbourne’s Docklands, a major urban regeneration project at the edge of the city’s central business district.

Over the course of two years, an interdisciplinary team of design and ethnography researchers from RMIT University partnered with Lendlease, developers of the Victoria Harbour precinct, to activate an empty shopfront retail space. This activation involved the development of a series of projects that investigated the cultural and spatial dynamics of Victoria Harbour and formulated design propositions responding to a range of social and environmental issues encountered within the precinct.

The project was staged through four interdisciplinary themes that directly addressed the inhabitation and liveability of the urban environment in the twenty first century. These were: Carbon Neutral Futures; Social Diversity; Digitally Enabled Infrastructures; and Urban Memory and Imagination.

At various times the space was organised into a lecture theatre, public forum, design studio, creative making space, and gallery. This accommodated the program of regular public talks, exhibitions of design projects and community workshops.

During the 'activation' of the site, undergraduate and postgradaute RMIT students from multiple disciplines - Interior Design, Landscape Architecture, Fashion Design, Communication Design, and RMIT’s Master of Design Innovation and Technology - developed projects that used the specifics of the Victoria Harbour site to design for urban futures more broadly.

The Exchange hosted public talks by people engaged in the shaping of the urban environment. These included Jeff Robinson, the Global Sustainable Buildings Leader for engineering firm Aurecon; Tim Campbell, Lendlease Project Director for Victoria Harbour; Bonnie Shaw, Strategy & Knowledge Manager for the City of Melbourne’s Smart City Office and Bruce Ramus a renowned large-scale urban lighting designer.

The project also saw the opportunity to develop the conversation about Victoria Harbour through collaborations with Melbourne’s many cultural festivals. For Melbourne Design Week, we hosted the Inner Worlds symposium, which invited architects and designers who had worked on the major buildings in the precinct to talk about the design intentions behind their conception. Speakers , included Kerry Clare (Clare Design), Bronwyn Pratt (HASSELL), Ken Ng (nettletontribe) and Sue Fenton (Woods Bagot).

For the Sustainable Living Festival, we curated the ‘Zero’ exhibition, a show featuring projects that envisioned zero carbon futures in high-density urban environments. For Melbourne Knowledge Week we hosted the ‘Sensor[ed]’ exhibition, a display of potential digital infrastructures in Melbourne. For Melbourne Fashion Week, we staged the ‘Urban Flâneur’ ‘salon’ that featured garments developed in response to Victoria Harbours social and environmental conditions.

Through the various studios, lectures, exhibitions and public events held at The Exchange, we were able to bring together the different views and agendas of governments, corporations, developers and the community and create a forum for the exchange of ideas about the urban environment. Such an open, participatory and collaborative approach ignited a robust discussion around the nature of the city and inspired the creation of innovative and original design proposals.


Research Team: Ross McLeod, Shanti Sumartojo, Charles Anderson, Natasha Sutila, Jacquelin Saultry, Suzanne Painter, Sean Hogan