ODS E-News talks to Darrel Conybeare, one of the Founding Directors of Street Furniture Australia.
Can you tell us a bit about your background – education, experience etc?
I graduated in architecture with first Class Honours and the University Medal at the University of Sydney in 1962. I then went on to gain Masters degrees in Architecture and City Planning in the Civic Design Program at the University of Pennsylvania.
I’ve worked in American architectural practices Wallace McHarg, Roberts & Todd, local government planning department as Marin County Urban Designer and in the office of Ray & Charles Eames as the Project Design Director of the National Fisheries Center and Aquarium, Washington DC; ‘Photography and the City’ Exhibition, Smithsonian Institution; and IBM Museum Concept Plan, Armonk, New York.
I’ve also worked in Australian architectural practices including McConnel Smith & Johnson, Collard Clarke & Jackson, Clarke Gazzard, Urban Systems Corporation. He was the Design Director for the inaugural City of Sydney Strategic Plan, 1970.
I jointly established Planning Workshop Pty Ltd in 1971 and practiced as an architect/urban designer for 10 years. I was appointed to project manage the Geelong Growth Centre Planning Studies Programme for the Federal Governments Cities Commission in 1975.
I established Conybeare Morrison (CM+) in 1980 with Bill Morrison whose work career closely paralleled mine. In addition, I completed sundry Action Plans for the Council of the City of Sydney including Martin Place Extension, Kings Cross Precinct and devised Streetscape Improvement Progamme, and was also involved in establishing similar planning and design programmes in Melbourne including Flinders Walk, Banana Alley and reactivation of the little laneways.
How and when did you get into the outdoor furniture business?
In the lead up to the 1988 Bicentenary Celebrations, the urban design arm of the Conybeare Morrison (CM+) architectural practice was commissioned to assist the NSW Government Architect’s Office to undertake the design of the public waterfront environment of Circular Quay and Macquarie Street/Queens Square.
The sourcing of high quality locally designed and produced street furniture proved an impossible task. Only imported products were available at that time, CM suggested the possible use of a ‘plaza’ seat that the firm had successfully designed and used for the City Walk project in Canberra City Centre in 1979.
The Premier, Neville Wran and the Assistant Government Architect, Andrew Andersons, inspected a prototype that Conybeare Morrison made and installed for testing within the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, Macquarie Street frontage. This seat was recommended for use on these major projects and subsequently manufactured under licence.
In 1986, Street Furniture Australia Pty Ltd (now known as Street Furniture) was founded and established in the second floor of a disused Taubman’s paint factory in St Peters, Sydney. Its initial offering was the plaza seat made with aluminium castings (cast by Central Foundry Pty Ltd) and jarrah battens, screw fixed from below and behind the seat to inhibit weather rot. This seat was soon followed by a bench, litter bin, bollard and drinking fountain to complete an integrated family of public realm furniture with its own Australian design integrity.
Inspiration for the form of the ‘plaza’ seat has its genesis in the slatted seats of Sydney’s toast-rack trams that both I and Bill regularly rode as we grew up in suburban Sydney.
How and when was Street Furniture established?
After the 1988 Bicentenary, in its formative years at the St Peters shed, the business operated in a casual mode. Some observers would have suggested it was more of a hobby than a serious business. However this was, in hindsight, an incubation phase. We learned gradually about each of the processes, from prototyping, cutting dressing battens, to spray painting, welding, inventory control, deliveries and of course, sales and marketing.
Increasingly it became apparent that clients were attracted to the products’ design quality and to its superior finishes. It soon became clear that it was Street Furniture’s integrated ensemble of furniture that was viewed as a definite advantage - all products related to one another through a common design identity.
Street Furniture established a design service to enable the products to be customised to suit clients’ particular needs. We were delighted to offer clients a virtually free design service if there was recognised interest in some particular product or a subtle variation in fixing details or materials. The seating around Parliament House, Canberra, is a fine example of such customisation. It was not until the decade of the 1990s that the business grew from adolescence to maturity, moving to Bourke Road and hiring dedicated sales and marketing personnel, and a production manager.
What, in your opinion, has contributed to the success of the company?
The company was formed prior to the emerging community interest in public realm design quality, at both broad and detailed scale. Bill Morrison and I, the founding directors, nurtured an innate awareness of the value of good design and combined this with the self-confidence and skills required to design and produce it: “Creating a sense of place” became the Street Furniture catch cry.
When Street Furniture opened for business in 1986 the industry was in its infancy. It was during the next 15 years that it gradually became obvious to others that opportunities abounded for replicating such a business. Here was a simple business model to copy and some folk did just that.
Can you tell us a bit about the company – major projects; award wins etc?
Street Furniture is a boutique design and production house employing a specialist team of salespersons, designers, prototype engineers, project managers and production workers. It is a two family business.
It is an organisation committed to improving its workplace modus operandi to ensure it can grow and change in order to remain a relevant contributor to the quality and appearance of Australia’s public environment.
Street Furniture has been awarded a number of professional design awards in recognition of the contribution made by its products collection. These include:
- The Fountain Head - Royal Society of Arts, 1998
- Street Furniture (Shared) - Lloyd Rees Award for Outstanding Urban Design RAIA (NSW Chapter), 1988
- Queen Victoria Bus Shelters - Merit Award in Urban Design RAIA (NSW Chapter), 1987
In addition, Street Furniture products are represented in many award-winning projects selected by Australian and international design bodies such as the Waterfront Centre, Washington DC, USA; the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, the NSW Chapter and National Body of the Australian institute of Architects. Award winning projects include:
- Kuching Waterfront, Sarawak, Malaysia, 1993
- George Street, The Rocks, Sydney, 1992
- Circular Quay, Sydney, 1988
- Macquarie Street, Sydney, 1988
- Sydney International Regatta Centre, Penrith Lakes, 1996
What has been your career highlight to date?
To be part of the team that has successfully established a high quality collection of public space furniture options under a brand that can now stand its ground in any urban setting in the world. Street Furniture products are designed to be mass produced, affordable, comfortable and satisfying to all users.
The company’s mission is to continue to refine its existing range and its identity, extending the brand’s unique offering into other untapped markets.
What does the company have planned/coming up?
Street Furniture supported the establishment of the town of Bundanoon as Australia’s first ‘Bottled Water Free Town’. It maintains its sponsorship of ‘Go Tap’, Do Something’s Jon Dee’s initiative to reduce the impact of bottle water receptacles on the environment. Street Furniture’s filtered watered stations are being installed in remote aboriginal communities, on Lord Howe Island, at several universities and other urban precincts throughout Australia.
Several new products are planned to be launched over the next six to 12 months including stainless steel drinking fountains, the aero-bench, first in the line of a ‘school family’ of playground furniture and a new generation of wheeled bin enclosures.
Street Furniture’s unique DF4 drinking fountain is now available in electro-polished stainless steel, incorporates a standard filtering device and the option of incorporating a dog drinking bowl. The Galleria seat is now available as a wall mounted product and can now be part of the existing footpath rest and refreshment facility furniture options.
Please feel free to add anything further.
The founders of Street Furniture are dedicated to the enhancement of Australia’s public environment. The evidence of this is the body of work undertaken by their architecture and design consultancy Conybeare Morrison (CM+), part of which provides design services to Street Furniture.
Over its 25 year evolution, Street Furniture has become something more than another furniture factory. Through its design philosophy and unique variety of products, it’s on the way to becoming an Australian institution.