Shaping Melbourne with Frank Hanson

Industry-renowned urbanisation specialist Frank Hanson has recently joined the RPS Australia Pacific team. 

A qualified urban designer and registered landscape architect, Frank comes to us after five years with the Victorian Planning Authority as Principal Urban Designer. Leading our Place team in Victoria, Frank brings experience from high-profile urban regeneration projects including Arden, Maribyrnong, Fishermans Bend and countless other initiatives in the growth areas of outer Melbourne and regional Victoria.

If placemaking is the conversation that unites design intent with positive user experience, Frank is a unifier of voices. Heading up our local team of urban designers, landscape architects, planners and surveyors, Frank will work closely with RPS community engagement specialists and commercial advisors to marry great design with the needs and aspirations of Victorian communities.

We asked Frank what inspires him as a designer and what role the design community has to play in shaping Australia’s prosperity, liveability and sustainability.

You have an interesting background that cuts across several professional specialisations - urban design, landscape architecture and fine art. When people ask you what you do, how do you answer?

As a landscape architect, a big part of my role is about visualising and guiding how places have and will evolve through the fourth spatial dimension – time. How will people experience a place on day one, but also how will it look, feel and operate 10, 20, 100 years from now?

Urban design is interesting in that it sits at the nexus between planning, landscape architecture and architecture, but is also connected to and influenced by engineering, economics and politics. As an urban designer it’s all about ensuring the seed of an idea can be carried through - often by others - to result in a great place. Ultimately, we are here to help these professions co-design, create and deliver an inspiring public realm.  

Throughout my career I’ve always worked in interdisciplinary teams with urban planners, architects, engineers, community engagement specialists, ecologists and archaeologists – so in many ways I see myself as someone who brings different disciplines together to get the best possible outcome.

So, when people ask me what I do, I say ‘I connect the dots between people and place’.

From the macro thinking required for masterplanning to the detailed focus of landscape architecture and conceptual lens applied to fine art – how do you combine skills from each design discipline in your work?

It’s important for me to draw from experience when faced with a problem, including delving back into my fine art background. A visual artist is generally concerned with composition, line, colour, shape, balance, form, proportion and space and these are elements that need to be considered when approaching a landscape or urban design problem.

The additional layer that these disciplines add is context. I believe that understanding the physical and cultural context in which you are working is a key factor for success. I’m continually fascinated by how projects that I’m currently working on can derive value from projects I’ve worked on in the past – even though they might be completely different in size, scope and site.



“We must continually remind ourselves that form and function - while important - can’t come at the cost of soul.”

Frank Hanson

Principal City Shaper



Major changes are happening in Melbourne as a result of population growth. What do you think are the most important things for designers to consider when shaping projects?

Condé Nast Traveller’s ‘coolest cities’ list once said of Melbourne: "at once sophisticated, stylish, and seemingly free-spirited, Melbourne has all of the traits you'd want in a friend". It’s important that we hold onto the things that are special about our city as our population approaches 8 million people.

Our challenge as designers and city makers is to not lose sight of what makes Melbourne special for the people who live, work and learn here. There’s enormous strain on our transport infrastructure which is starting to be addressed, but as we work to make our city work, we must continually remind ourselves that form and function - while important - can’t come at the cost of soul.

It’s also vital that we remember to look beyond the famous ‘Hoddle Grid’ of the CBD. There’s a vast suburban and peri-urban area beyond the ring roads of nearly 5000 square kilometres and we must design and deliver great outcomes for the residents of those communities as well.

You’ve worked extensively to shape great outcomes for infrastructure with a specific focus on water sensitive design. What’s your approach to incorporating natural systems into the cityscape?

Many of the older parts of our cities were built when ‘taming’ watercourses was the goal. Parts of Melbourne are built over watercourses which have been placed underground in vast drains which struggle to cope during major rainfall events.

When this happens, we see how important it is not to overlook the natural systems upon which our settlements have and are being built. We must start with the land itself. The underlying geology, vegetation types and ways in which water interacts and flows across the landscape. 

The most sustainable design solutions work with rather than against natural systems and the most sustainable approach to city making is to enhance and repair the infrastructure we already have. I believe we have a responsibility to create cities for the next generation that are built on principles of sustainability and equity, so it’s important that designers have the UN’s sustainable development goals in mind as they create schemes and solutions.

What part of the design process do you love the most? Is it the process of creation, or the end result?

I really enjoy visiting places in which I have had a part in delivering and seeing how they evolve over time. I also like the challenge of bringing all the background information and the subject matter experts together with future users of a site to explore the many ways in which a space, place or region could potentially evolve.


Media contact

Lauren Bonser
Senior Marketing Advisor - Communications and Content
(07) 3539 9673

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