The End of Rundle Mall

I miss Rundle Mall already, although it's still there. Some council has decided to tear up an established part of my town and rebuild it, and it's been slightly saddening.

I'm talking about bricks. I'm talking about the nice, regular patterns of brown and red bricks that have tiled Rundle Mall for as long as I've known it. They've looked like this:

The old rundle mall paving

The centre part of the mall is paved with thin bricks in the familiar alternating brick pattern. The walkways at the sides have rectangular bricks in a pleasing herring-bone pattern; most of these bricks are brown, but one in every sixteen is red, giving the impression of a dual structure, embodying fine structure yet greater design.

The pattern is easy on the eyes. No straight line continues for long in the herring-bone pattern before colliding with the middle of an unbroken brick. The only long lines that survive are those across the central path, and they are neatly hemmed by the gutters.

These patterns have given my mind something to occupy itself with when the mall was unable to provide other distractions. It has point symmetry only about the centre of each brick, and no line symmetry at all! Had I ever been algebraically reflected into a mirror universe with a mirror Rundle Mall, I could have determined this fact instantly by looking next to my feet.

A workman removing
the old bricks

This pattern is disappearing. Large patches have been torn up and replaced with temporary swashes of ugly concrete. At the western end of Rundle Mall, the new pavement is already in place.

The new rundle mall paving

The old colours are entirely gone, replaced by large, square, dusty blue pavers. There is new structure at the large scale; patterns of pale brown pavers delineate eating areas, or areas where schoolkids of particular ages are expected to congregate, or whatever else the designer had in mind. Straight lines are everywhere, pushing in all directions without barrier.

The overall effect draws your attention away from the small detail and forces you to look at the big picture. Look! See! Gasp! O, the enormousness of it all.

But by having so much macroscopic structure, the new look becomes painfully uniform. To my eyes, it says integrated where the old pattern said coexisting. It speaks of enforced cooperation rather than relaxed harmony.

A bright orange 

Which could well be the intent of the design. The powers within the Adelaide City Council are feverishly pro-development, and their rhetoric speaks of "promoting" the city, rather than simply making it a nice place to be. The redesign of Rundle Mall has been carefully timed to present a face of dynamism, impressiveness and maximum advertising space whenever there has been a popular event in the last year -- the 1995 Grand Prix, the 1996 Festival -- and as a result it has been obstructive and invasive to people trying to live here in between times.

Extra lighting at night is good, and perhaps makes it seem a safer area to walk in -- but does it have to come from those monstrous black spidery things? At Christmastime, do we really appreciate the sequence of unfunny banners proclaiming Australianist versions of the twelve presents? To me, the replacement of the very basis of Rundle Mall is incisively symbolic, and the message is this: when things are even slightly decrepit, they must be fixed.

The Rundle Mall Spheres,
with truck

I don't know whether anyone else is drawn to such emotions by the new construction, but as I've attempted to explain, it brings a sad message to my eyes. An old, worn friend is being replaced, part by part, with a newer, sharper, boxier and more corporate character.

The End of Rundle


Unfortunately, it's hard to take a photo of what the old pattern looked like in its full glory: most of the remaining patches are covered in white dust from months of continuous construction. The photos above don't do it justice; you can't see how much paler the new pavers are. Perhaps these photos will be better:

The old rundle mall

The old rundle mall

Copyright 1996 Sam Bushell,
25 August 1996