Text description provided by the architects. The Afghan Bazaar Cultural Precinct celebrates the unique concentration of Afghan businesses in Dandenong, an outer-suburb of Melbourne, Australia.
The City of Greater Dandenong, and Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, have invested significantly in enhancements to the precinct’s core in Thomas Street, aspiring to recast the street as an authentic venue for public life, community identity, unity and pride.
The HASSELL design for the precinct has created an emblematic urban streetscape that is integrated and responsive to the diverse cultures of the local, and broader, Afghan community. It has delivered a distinct visual character that engages and enlivens the street, encouraging community gathering.
An intensive community consultation, facilitated by Sinatra Murphy, underpins the design. The consultation highlighted the diversity within Dandenong’s Afghan population, but focused on shared ideas and aspirations to develop a design framework of community-endorsed themes supporting social unity. The key themes include artistic expression, the colour blue, a centrepiece, and celebration.
The Afghan Bazaar Cultural Precinct demonstrates a new direction in the design of public cultural spaces that aims to move beyond the clichés of precinct branding, says HASSELL Senior Associate, Cassandra Chilton.
“The community consultation allowed us to understand the way people used the existing space, and how it could better accommodate specific cultural requirements. For example, the custom seating we’ve designed reinterprets the traditional Arabic ‘suffah’, or dais, for the urban Australian context. This allows the community to socialise in familiar ways,” she said.
The extraordinary tiling of Mazar-e-Sharif (Blue Mosque) was a major inspiration for the design. A contemporary interpretation forms the basis of the design approach that HASSELL called ‘the geometry of gathering’. Intricately detailed paving on both sides of the street introduce colour, texture and pattern to define the primary meeting places. The abstracted geometries expand to generate the arrangement and form of the streetscape elements, increasing in intensity at the focal areas of the precinct.
The vivid blue of turquoise and lapis lazuli are colours that resonate with the community. Their highly visual introduction, via blue glass aggregates and resin pavement stencils, adds vibrancy to the street and is a signature of the precinct.
Thomas Street has been reconfigured to create more gathering space for the community. The roadways have been narrowed and footpaths widened to establish new infrastructure for festivals and events, such as Nowruz (New Year). Improved lighting, new trees, overhead power-line removal and better links to neighbouring precincts and transport will also contribute to the activation of the precinct.
An integrated artwork called ‘Lamp’ by Afghan-Australian artist, Aslam Akram, provides a captivating centrepiece by day and night. Lamp has two parts, says Akram. “The base represents the fuel source – human energy, knowledge and experience. It also symbolises holy places, histories and memories of Afghan Australian people. The top is a filigreed shade symbolising creation as a result of human energy, as well as friendship and respect between communities, and within cultures in multicultural Australia,” he said.
The Afghan Bazaar project recognises the role that cultural and artistic expression plays in defining the visual identity and liveability of a community, said Chilton. “It celebrates the street as an important space, not just for movement and commercial exchange, but also for the social and cultural encounters that are so important to daily life.”