Happy Holidays and have a great 2011

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a great 2011.

I would like to thank my family for their support in 2010 and especially my friends – Peter, Robert, Steve for their support also during the year. Every year has its ups and downs 2010 has been a bigger roller coaster than usual but  I am looking forward to 2011 with a positive outlook and hope to achieve a great deal with various projects and ideas.

I would also like to thank all the readers of World Landscape Architect and LAND Reader for your support, emails and comments. Looking forward to bring more great content to readers and hope more companies submit design projects for publication.

To all my followers on Twitter and LinkedIN – thanks for all the discussions and conversations during 2010 and I look forward to having more conversations and making new connections that widen my outlook and network.



Australian Economy: Factors to watch in 2011

These are observations of  factors I think will change the Australian market in 2011.  Other short-term factors will come into play that could change any or all of these factors. I predict these with great trepidation as I have heard only a fool predicts the future of any economy but it was fun exercise to think about. I am not an economist or financial expert by any stretch of the imagination but I would be interested in hearing your own conclusions via comments or damian@damianholmes.com

– Continuing high Australian Dollar against all major currencies

– Housing prices are high and afford-ability is low

– Interest rates will continue to rise and those with fixed mortgages will be going into a flexible rate of 7.5-8.0%

– Private debt will continue to rise as housing prices stay high and people redraw against already high loans to do home improvements

– Universities increased fees although they expect lower overseas enrollments

– Australian Government changed immigration laws for overseas students

– Continued contraction in Tourism as local and international tourism rates drop

– Continued growth in WA & Queensland due to mining; Other states will need to start spending on capital projects to get things moving as the 2008 Federal stimulus has finally dried up.

– Competition in industries are stagnant along with competition as M&A continues the only option for many companies to be able to grow and gain talent – how Singapore Exchange takeover of ASX is key along with how the government deals with increased interest from Chinese companies increasing investing in overseas markets in 2011.

– China is Australia’s largest export market

– 2 speed economy will continue as Mining sector outstrips any other sector and retail & tourism drops off

– Lower than expected retail numbers for Christmas and sales moving retail overseas moving overseas due to price gouging by retailers and high Australian dollar having effects on part-time & full time retail staff.

– Talent will be in short supply as more baby-boomers retire and along with a lack of middle managers to rise up the ranks as many where sacrificed in 2007-’08 to cut companies costs to keep the market & stockholders happy

Pigeon-holing employees – a recipe for employee churn

Recently, I have noticed more and more businesses are pigeon-holing people based on skill or one required task. Its not just corporate cultures who are doing this, I have seen more and more smaller firms hire people based alone on one skill set. It is becoming more prominent in China as businesses try to streamline processes and increase efficiency as labour costs increase as the China market matures especially in Tier 1 cities. However, this is going to come to haunt businesses as they head towards Chinese New Year, a time when people go home with family and think about the year ahead. Many employees who work for businesses that have started pigeon-holing people will look for new employers that provide more challenges and opportunities to grow.

Providing challenges and the opportunity to grow with your company is going to start to outweigh your company’s reputation and the location of your headquarters. Too often in China people look for the perfect person for the position they have open and assess each candidate on whether they are right for the position – usually this involves a check-list,  which is really another form of pigeon holing.  This method of recruiting just emphasizes the rigidity of the culture and therefore the company will miss out on people who can contribute in multiple areas of the company. The person might not have all the skills that you want for the position but may have a wider understanding of the industry or clients or suppliers, etc. Of course, attitude, passion and past positions are other attributes that you need to take into account when searching for the right candidate.

How is pigeon-holing a recipe for churn? Creating a culture where people are pigeon-holed into one or two tasks may create task efficiency but it will also create churn as employees lack challenges and a pathway through the company. It goes back to the hiring process, when you look to employ people don’t use a checklist, look at their wider skill set and immediately determine how they could progress in your company and what areas they could contribute to your business. Providing challenges and a pathway to grow is a great way to retain people, but you need to effectively communicate this to each employee and not just at their annual evaluation.  Always remember, the people who have a wider skill set, (which shows a willingness to learn and change) are better long term employees as they can grow within the company over longer periods of time thus reducing your churn rate and hiring costs.

SIDENOTE: This is does not only apply to creative or white collar businesses it also applies to production lines or other singular task work environments. People doing one task all day may create efficiency but people are not robots and in the long term can have a psychological impact as we have seen this year occur in the manufacturing sector.

Design changes the way you live, work and play everyday

Design affects you everyday from the time you rise from your bed to the time you come home and retire to bed. Design is everywhere and helps you in every way achieve you goals for the day. Design occurs from the mundane such as tap or door to the highly sophisticated such as a car or plane where numerous design elements come together to work as one system.

A designer is someone who solves a problem or creates a solution to a question never asked. Designers are not just people with special skills or way of thinking they are everyday people who are trying to creating a better and more interesting world.

Designers  can be architects, engineers, planners, stylists, musicians, artists, and also professional designer in various areas of design including  urban, industrial, graphic, interiors, lighting, sound, fashion, jewelery, web, game, furniture, visual and so on. Everyday designers effect the way you work, live and play – your desk, chair, computer, phone – your crockery, table, restaurant, car, plane – your racquet, console, bike. All these have elements of design that were created by a designer whether the object is practical, curvaceous, austere, clean, minimalist, modern, antique, whimsical or audacious. Design can be seen everywhere, everyday and designers effect everything you do and how you feel.

Designers are often the silent heroes to me  – the ones who aren’t the starchitects or fashion icons or jewelery powerhouses – these people who design day in day out giving the heart and soul to design items of practicality or beauty. Although many do it for ego, most do it for the love of design. So if you know a designer or buy a design that you love drop the designer an email or written note saying how it makes you feel as that will make any designers day.

Spanish Ghost towns – urban planning via market forces

Much has been written about the ghost towns of China and its now interesting to see that ghost towns in Europe are now popping up in the media such as the recent New York Times article Newly Built Ghost Towns Haunt Banks in Spain. The Chinese ghost town have various reasons for occurring but from what I understand the Spanish and Irish ghost towns were basically due to 2 factors – cheap money and oversupply. The question remains who is to blame? the banks, the market or government. For me its the mostly the governments who allowed planning and growth to get out of control without taking into account the economic and social factors.

Many cities and towns across the world operate autonomously when it comes to urban planning and let the social(more employment) and financial benefits (taxes & rates) get ahead of the long term vision. That being said urban planning also has many other problems due to the slow pace of plan & policy formation along with slow implementation. Urban plans are often very inflexible and take years to change and never keep up with the market. Often many cities don’t have enough residential or commercial or industrial areas at a given time thus sending up prices – in Spain its seems the influx of foreign investors drove up prices even quicker.

So, how do we solve the problem of ghost towns? Now that they are built it will take years to fill them in a continent that has a fast ageing population. Many housing areas will end up totally derelict and be similar to areas of the USA. I think that the best approach is  to leave them for now and hope that the market fills them up, but the banks own the houses and are losing money. Maybe, the banks should turn them over to the government for social housing due to the large costs of maintenance and insurance over the next 10 years. The banks may be better writing the houses off as a loss as this one off cost could outweigh the return/profit that the banks could gain in the long term.

How do we stop ghost towns occurring? A proper planning process and implementation that takes a hard look at the overall process and eliminates any problems before they actually occur is the best solution.

让子弹飞 Let the Bullets Fly took 60 million yuan

让子弹飞 Let the Bullets Fly a period movie starring Yun-Fat Chow, Carina Lau, Xiaogang Feng, You Ge and other well known Chinese Actors opened last week. The movie is a set in the 1920’s about a bandit and the gentry (good guy and bad guy film where the lines blur between who is bad and who is good).  Its a film with action, kung-fu and comedy – a mix that has become very popular in Chinese films.

The movie took 60 million yuan on Saturday beating out Avatar for the record of one day takings [Xinhua]. Chinese film industry constantly grows and changes – more and more Hong Kong, Taiwanese actors are playing parts in Chinese films – this is due to market but also salaries where salaries on the Mainland are becoming larger than that in Hong Kong film industry.

I hope to see it on DVD or IPTV soon.

Shanghai 2014: J Hotel – the highest Hotel in Shanghai

5 star hotels in Shanghai are not in short supply with many local and international hotel brands represented on both sides of the Huangpu River. Today, with interest I read that Jin Jiang Hotel group has taken the lease for the 84th-110th floors of the new mega-tall Shanghai Tower. The Shanghai tower will be one of the tallest buildings in world at over 630 metres. Apparently the new hotel will be called the J Hotel – making it easy to remember and for Chinese and English to say when they arrive in Shanghai.

Usually the high rise hotels have been leased by foreign brands in China such as the Jinmao (Grand Hyatt), SWFC (Park Hyatt), Guangzhou International Finance Center (Four Seasons), Lanko Chongqing (Grand Hyatt). Its interesting to see a Chinese brand take the lease on what will be the tallest tower in China, its obviously going to occur more and more not only in China but across the world.

The Shanghai Tower will be 632 metres  much taller than SWFC and Taipei 101, but not taller than Burj Khalifa or the Tokyo Sky Tree. The tallest building race will rage on but I think the Burj Khalifa will take a long time to beat, the question remains whether this is necessary due to the energy and resources required to build and maintain such a tall building.

I also hear that the J Hotel in the Shanghai Tower will have a lobby on the 101st floor which will be great if they have a restaurant or bar. Currently, I like to go to the bar at 91st floor at Park Hyatt at SWFC with friends and visitors so they can see the city lights – although you have to get there before 8pm usually so you have enough time to enjoy the view before the lights go out on many buildings at around 9-9:30pm.

Frank Gehry’s UTS building – catalyst for modern Sydney Architecture

Frank Gehry’s of new architectural design for the Dr Chau Chak Wing(see above) at the University of Technology in Sydney was recently published on bdonline.co.uk – Gehry unveils his ‘mystery’ $150 million Australian debut. Its been dubbed the Tree-house – Australian’s have a knack for giving nick names to buildings or places such as the Harbour Bridge is know as the Coat hanger.  I can see that the new Gehry building will be interesting addition to the Sydney skyline. Sydney isn’t renowned for its great architecture, obviously there are a few exceptions with the Opera House and a few Harry Siedler buildings – most other buildings including much of the CBD are plain glass monolith’s – I am saying this as a true Melbournian :-p (Sydney vs Melbourne rivalry dates back decades).

I also worry about the plain and mundane architecture that has been presented for the new developments at Barangar0o; They all seem too similar and don’t offer much identity for the place – I feel that the buildings could be anywhere in the world. However, I hope that Gehry’s building it will be implemented with minor alterations to the visions say what you will about his designs but they do have a certain power and create an energy within the space they occupy.  I am hoping the Gehry’s UTS building will have the same catalytic effect on Sydney’s architecture that the RMIT’s buildings of the 1990’s had on Melbourne’s skyline and architecture. The two key buildings where Building 8 by Edmond & Corrigan and Storey Hall by Ashton Raggatt McDougall.

MORE INFORMATION: UTS has setup a project website with the specification, costs and all consultants involved in the project.

*UPDATE* – I have been informed by UTS that DARYL JACKSON ROBIN DYKE is the landscape architect as well as the executive architect for the project.