2013 Melbourne Design Awards

Route 86, High Street Northcote [DRAFT]

Image Credit : Outlines landscape architecture and Darebin City Council


Project Overview

High Street Northcote is a unique and much loved street. From its historical landmarks, architectural heritage and community heart, to street art, music, food and fashion the street has a vibrant, eclectic character all of its own.
During 2011 and 2012 High Street underwent a major transformation centered around extensive tram track and streetscape works including the construction of new level access ‘Centre Island Platform’ and ‘Kerb Extension’ tram stops – the first of their specific kind on the network.
Outlines were engaged as the urban designer for the delivery of the project working in partnership with Darebin City Council, Vicroads, Yarra Trams, the State Government a range of specialist consultants. An extensive community consultation and design process was focused on not only the functional requirements for the tram stops but also conceiving an approach that referenced the unique cultural, social and historical qualities of High Street Northcote. The outcome shows how creative and integrated urban design can meet the many logistical challenges of implementing transport infrastructure yet provide a vibrant and unique outcome for our streets, public spaces and the local community.

Project Commissioner

Darebin City Council

Project Creator



Damon Obst
Martin Reeves
Lyndel Osbourne

Project Brief

The project brief was both complex and exciting. Implementing compliant, level access tram stops whereby the pavement is effectively raised to the height of the tram floor is a legislative mandate across the Melbourne Network. This section of High Street required, along with extensive track and streetscape renewal, the insertion of new level access ‘Centre Island’ and ‘Kerb Extension’ trams stops. This was seen as a flagship and precedent project for Melbourne. New level access ‘super stops’ largely developed around the CBD have typically been implemented within wide road reserves using standard typologies and materials.
In this case, the same functional requirements to successfully combine the needs of trams, pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles remained - but within the demanding constraints of a narrow road reserve and within a very different and unique street typology. Within this framework there was a strong desire from council and the local community to maintain the qualities and vibrancy of the street. The project needed to deliver a creative approach to the integration of the tram stops whilst maintaining and enhancing the unique cultural and social qualities of High Street Northcote.

Project Need

The real innovation of High Street Northcote is that it has delivered compliant and functional tram stop and streetscape design without a formulaic approach or the ‘sameness’ that categorizes many of the projects that have gone before it. Custom designed furniture, tram shelters, pavements, lighting and surfaces were all made unique through textures, laser cut patterning, pressed metal, lighting and various material finishes that tell a ‘story’ of High Street’s unique cultural, social and heritage character. The tram stops have not been imposed upon the street but are genuinely integrated with their surrounds in the way they weave and blend into the streetscape. The use of planting, furniture and flexible public space is merged into the fabric of the tram stops. The use of subtle colour and textural changes identify each tram stop and local precinct reinforcing a sense of place, creating a playful and detailed narrative whilst maintaining an overall language along the route.

Design Challenge

The major design challenge and key success of the project was ensuring that the unique sense of place and rich character of High Street endured beyond the physical works themselves. This was achieved by engaging with the local community and recognising their role as custodians and end-users of the space. The traders, local residents and user groups were critical members of the consultation and design process. It was through understanding their needs and learning from them, that meaningful design outcomes were developed. Having the local community support and understand the project was especially critical during the intense and disruptive construction works – where open communication and stewardship from council ensured that the longer term vision and benefits of the works were not lost. A real measure of the project’s success is not only the physical interventions but the way people use, inhabit, connect with and ultimately take ownership of the space. The ability for the streetscape to facilitate events and interactions from small gatherings to the High Street ‘Northern Exposure’ Festival ensures that it remains a unique and high quality place for people and community.
Darebin Council has produced this great little film capturing the essence of the project:


High quality, accessible and inclusive public transport facilities are fundamental to creating sustainable communities and cities and it is this premise that underpins Route 86, High Street Northcote. Walk ability and safe access to public transport – not just for tram use, but bicycles and quality streetscapes for all users are promoted and addressed in this project. There are subtle yet innovative Water Sensitive Urban Design systems including progressive use of permeable pavements and clever details like diverting drainage from a tram shelter roofs to filter through nearby garden beds. The protection and retention of existing trees and implementation of new extensive urban street tree planting is a key long term environmental benefit for the street. Material selection included the use of robust and recycled materials including natural stone paving and reclaimed timber.


This award celebrates creativity and innovation in the process of designing and shaping cities, towns and villages, and is about making connections between people and places, movement and urban form, nature and the built fabric. Consideration given to giving form, shape and character to groups of buildings, streets and public spaces, transport systems, services and amenities, whole neighbourhoods and districts, and entire cities, to make urban areas functional, attractive and sustainable.

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