Since 2005, the mission of Right Angle has been to invest time, energy and capital into making better places around the world. That includes Sunbury, where creative director Chris Barton is working with SRL on a new town centre.

Right Angle does many things for many clients in many locations. How do you describe your business?
We describe ourselves as an urban innovation company, which means that we like to approach things differently. We also do projects both for clients and for ourselves. One of the unique aspects of Right Angle is that we own and operate hospitality and health businesses such as the Golden Age Cinema and Bar and the Paramount Recreation Club in Sydney, and a rooftop cinema in Melbourne back in the day.

What that means for us is that we have a really good insight into what it takes to run a business, and a really good insight into audiences, their behaviours and needs.

So more specifically, how has SRL engaged your services?
For SRL’s Sunbury Town Centre, we were brought on by SRL to advise on the place vision and the retail vision and strategy. We’re able to bring expertise, research and thinking that will ultimately inform the design as well as the leasing and branding.

The projects you mentioned are inner-city based. Have you worked in outer-suburban areas such as Sunbury before?
Yes, we have. We do a lot of work in greenfield and brownfield places. So while our mission statement is “to understand and improve life in our cities”, those cities encompass the suburbs. It’s inclusive, and we really enjoy it. Often, it’s a bit more of a blank canvas. 

How do you approach a place vision for a project such as the Sunbury Town Centre?
The first thing is to understand the audience and understand them in terms of past, present and future. We want to understand who has been there, who’s there currently and who will be there moving forward. 

We want to understand their different behaviours and needs. It’s important to crystallise that., Otherwise, it just becomes a guessing game, plucking retail concepts or amenities out of thin air. 

So, we go deep into research. Often, we will commission or inherit a lot of data around a place, and we like to complement that with more local insights derived from various methods, from neighbourhood study tours to vox pops. Anything to breathe a bit of life into the data and illuminate opportunities.

What did your research reveal at Sunbury?
That part of Melbourne is going to develop quite rapidly, and the people there are going to change and grow as well. So, we’re thinking a lot about the future needs of Sunbury, and not just the current population. 

We looked at different types of workers in the area — different life stages, families, couples, and so on –– and we thought about what they would need daily.

Part of the excitement for the Sunbury Town Centre is the opportunity to ask, what makes a good neighbourhood? And how can we bake that into a place to make it appealing for the local residents? Also, with some great design and activation, how can it become a destination?

Do you consider elements beyond the retail, such as the project’s community spaces?
We do. All those features of a place are important. It’s about how you create an ecosystem. It’s not just form following function, but form following flow. It’s understanding how people will move through a space at different times on different days of the week, right across a year.

Having worked extensively in this industry, how would you say SRL is different?
There’s a collaborative spirit to how SRL does things, which works for us. It’s great to have that level of transparency and camaraderie with your client and to feel part of the place team.

Beyond that, it’s clear that SRL has the vision and courage to do things differently in this space. They’ve obviously experienced and observed a number of similar assets that don’t add to the life of neighbourhoods. They’re looking to challenge that approach and create a new blueprint for how it can be done. 

There’s a generosity to this thinking as well. They’re investing a lot of time and energy in creating a new way of doing things that I know they would love other developers to look at and model. So, hopefully, this is the start of something really exciting for Sunbury, but also for many other emerging suburban centres.

What does success look like for you on this project?

It’s a good question and a good test of if we’ve done our jobs, whether or not we would go there ourselves. I have a couple of small children, a five-year-old and a two-year-old, and I’d like to think that this a place where we could spend a half-day at least exploring and enjoying and experiencing a wide range of activities.