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HomeIssue 1Unfolding mall design

Unfolding mall design

UPDATED with new photos (see below), January 2, 11.20am.
There are still surprises to be discovered in the unfolding redesign of Todd Mall. I’d been away for almost a month and walking back from the courthouse to the riverside carpark the first to catch my eye was the new seating.
The provision of lots of seating has been one of the strongest signals to people in the mall that it is being promoted to them as a place to linger and enjoy. There are the ranks of simple brick benches, with their coloured tile highlights, lining Parsons Street and congregating at the intersection of the street with the mall. Then there are the stainless steel Caterpillar benches (with their controversial resilience to skateboarding) in the middle of the northern section of the mall. Both sets were part of the original design work led by Susan Dugdale, with the emphasis on the mall as a gathering place arising out of the consultation and planning led by Steve Thorne of Design Urban.
Now, picking out the northern stretch almost like random musical notes, there are new benches designed by Elliat Rich and fabricated by CAT Projects.
You soon realise that there’s nothing random in the unexpectedly odd angles of the placement of these benches. A discreet little plaque on each points, with an arrow and succinct information, to a place in the distant and not-so-distant landscape where events have happened in the past contributing to the shaping of the present day town. Examples: at three kilometres to the north-west, on 11 March 1871, “Thereyurre / ‘The Alice Spring’ chosen as a site for the repeater station”; at 7.3 kms to the south-west, on 1 February 1878, “Second trig point established on Alhekulyele / Mt Gillen.”
So, while waiting for your friend to come back from the bank or out of the dress shop or to meet you for a coffee and with the prodding of just a few words, your mind is set on a journey out into the majestic landscape that surrounds the town, to different points in place and time of the encounters between cultures. Curiosity is stimulated, acts of imagination provoked. What you do next with this is up to you …
The angles of placement are striking. In contrast the aesthetic is subtle. The benches, the outer surface a pale grey like the bark of a rivergum and industrially smooth, sit easily into their surrounds yet they are distinct, especially in the way they are shaped as a single form and with the pleasing use of strips of coloured recycled sheet metal, lining their base.
As I take a snap with my phone something in the upper right hand corner attracts my attention. I look up. There are two light poles at either side of the road as Parsons Street curves round into the northern mall. Families of moths, wrought in rusted steel, flutter to their ‘flame’. It’s as if they have been released from the nearby ‘art’ moth shade structures, a lovely playful connection made by the artist Pip McManus, responsible for both.
I’m looking back to the shade structures when I notice the third surprise. This one is not so pleasant. For me the pinnacle of achievement in the redesign has been the decluttering that has restored integrity to the presence of the ancient tree in Parsons Street and opened up the line of sight towards the river. A circular depression in the paving in front of the tree, called the Rainwater Reflection Pan (designed to fill only when it rains), made a gesture of reverence to the tree and its significance particularly for Arrernte people.
The design worked with the elegant simplicity of geometry and symmetry. Attention to detail in the construction process saw the use, in the centre of the pan, of sandstone bricks from the original construction of the Civic Centre as a way to subtly acknowledge the institution of the Town Council and its role as present day guardian of the public space.
So what can have possessed our civic authorities to cut into these sandstone bricks and furthermore to do it asymmetrically, in order to place a plaque marking the “official opening” on July 20 last of the redevelopment of the mall? The plaque, typical of its kind, records the names of four men: Matt Conlan MLA Minister for Central Australia, Mayor Damien Ryan, Council’s CEO Rex Mooney and Director of Technical Services Greg Buxton. For all its bronze prestige, it’s little better than someone carving into a tree or graffiti-ing a wall, “XY was here, 20/7/13”.
Had whoever stopped to think, and perhaps to consult, they should have realised that this plaque could have been honorably and far more appropriately placed elsewhere, perhaps on a nearby wall or on the base of one of the nearby benches, for instance.  As it is the Rainwater Reflection Pan stands tarnished.
I go into the mall since the redesign with a particular interest, above all wanting to see how it’s working, how people are responding to its various features and to the whole feeling of the place. When I talk to people about it, they often haven’t noticed certain particulars or aren’t aware of their significance or connections. A step that I hope will be taken soon, and with careful thought as to its realisation, is the provision of interpretative material.
UPDATE, January 2, 11.20am: 
Artist Pip McManus supplied the photos below, showing how the moth lights come into their own at night.
The photo at the bottom shows a view from above of the adjacent moth shade structures which emphasises the charm of the lacy shadows they cast. Architect Susan Dugdale designed the moth shade structures which are repeated in sets along Parsons Street, at the junction of the street and the mall, and again in the northern stretch. McManus has intervened in two sets of the structures, one in Parsons Street, the other shown here. The moth motif takes its cue from the Arrernte totemic caterpillars, the Yeperenye, Ntyarlke and Utnerrengatye. McManus’ work also acknowledges – in spelling out the names for the moths from both systems – the Arrernte and Western scientific knowledge systems that stand alongside one another in Alice Springs, making meaning and understanding in the very special landscape in which we live.




  1. Just another example of the bureaucratese ensuring that their names are on something.
    First, why put the names of employees on a plaque??
    Secondly, isn’t it ironic that Conlan has his name in a “pool of reflection”?

  2. As I drove through yesterday, very slowly, I was pleased to see pedestrians extending the “shared zone” to the whole mall as it should be.
    Was also wondering what vandals had tipped over those boxes. Took a few moments to recognise them as seating.

  3. Hi Kieran,
    A slight correction to your article.
    The benches you write about were fabricated by CAT’s Fabrication Workshop (a social enterprise), not CAT Projects.
    The coloured recycled sheets are actually strips of car bonnets from wrecked and abandoned cars around Alice Springs which the Aboriginal employees of the workshops located, collected, cut and fitted.

  4. Thank you Kieran, I found your article very enlightening; like Hal, I can only wonder at what went on between the Alice Springs Town Council and the owners of the Alice Plaza?
    Was it a Councillor discussion / decision, or was it a paper from ‘The ASTC Officers with options?’ Will ASTC now work together cooperatively for the betterment of Todd Mall: to have shopfronts all inclusive and engaging of the Todd Mall pedestrians?
    Where is the might of a body, such as a Todd Mall Traders? Even if your have finished trading for the day, why can’t shopkeepers put their Grills up only at dark, rather than in broad daylight?
    Why are grills up all over town at 3pm, when many mums and passers by, would like nothing better than to sit quietly with a cup of coffee or light refreshment, and be able to read the latest magazine of interest to them while their kids have a romp around the mall shops?
    Many elected Councillors have a strong desire to do something good for the town: and I speak with experience here, sadly, their good ideas are thwarted by the ASTC Officers.
    Councillors’ ideas are disregarded lightly, and in some cases, mocked and ridiculed; knocked down and replaced with what ‘The Officers’ deem as a better proposition without any consultation of Councillors.
    Why is there an Elected Council, when ‘The Officers’ can wield so much power? Why has Council frustratingly, become such a farce?
    Councillor Eli Melky came into office in 2012, stating that he had personal experience as Chairman of the Hindley Street Traders, outlining his role in what he claimed was the successful turn-around of business in that area of Adelaide, and I don’t dispute this.
    So why can’t Councillor Melky put to good use those ideas and skills now? We have a wealth of knowledge and business acumen within Councillors Melky, Martin, Heenan, Kudrenko, Douglas, Brown, Paech and now Bonnani as well.
    I believe that Councillors have become ‘just a rubber stamp’ for projects which may be seen by the ASTC Officers, as too controversial.
    Councillors are bombarded with mountains of papers which are all generated by ‘The Officers,’ not Councillors!
    Councillors have little time to discuss their own ideas even on a third Monday, because the Agenda, frustratingly, is driven by ‘The Officers!’
    It is time that publicly ELECTED Councillors show their true colours: Why did you stand? It is time for you collectively, to make your own decisions, generate your own discussion outside of ASTC confines if necessary … do something for BUSY-NESS in the Todd Mall before it is too late for all businesses? Come on Councillors, get together, and put your thinking caps on.


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