About Eco-Acupuncture

Eco-Acupuncture (EcoA) is a unique ‘design-research-engagement-action’ program to assist communities, towns and cities as they prepare to transition from centuries of development based on a fossil fuel economy.

The program is a response to a growing demand for strategic vision and innovative design at local government, suburb or ‘precinct’ level in Victoria as they confront:

  • The shifting viability of existing infrastructure as oil prices escalate;
  • The accommodation of new (diverse) forms of renewable energy;
  • The multiple impacts on living conditions from changes in climate and extreme weather events.

The EcoA program was developed by the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL) in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne in 2008. It brings research and education into direct engagement with specific communities to:

  • Examine emerging problems for the future resilience of a specific urban location;
  • Consider any complex system interactions that form part of those problems;
  • Visualise future possibilities, and most critically,
  • Design a series of interventions as ‘transformation points’ towards a resilient low-carbon future.

EcoA is unique in its process (continuously refined over a series of projects in Australia and Europe) and because it brings a team of university researchers and design academics, design masters students and design industry professionals, to work closely with, and in, local communities.

What is Eco-Acupuncture?

The ‘urban acupuncture’ metaphor seems to have been first used by Jaime Lerner, the ex-mayor of Curitiba in Brazil, to explain (in retrospect) the success of their urban development approach that has become a globally recognised and iconic model. The term ‘Acupuncture’ seems rich and apposite to describe what VEIL aims to achieve in its work to envision – and change – existing (sub)urban residential and commercial districts. The Eco-Acupuncture 2010 process for the Re-visioning Hume project, described as exploratory work by VEIL, undertaken in collaboration with the Hume City Council, identified a series of likely intervention point opportunities (see the ‘c’ point below) which are seen as domains of potentiality.  These opportunities, which in this case are physical locations, are the starting points of the Eco-Acupuncture process and as in any complex body, urban or otherwise, all the system lines that are identified, intersect and interact.  It is these interactions that provide the design challenge and opportunities.

In this approach to changing trajectories of development and overcoming paralysis and short-term resistance, our aim is to identify opportunities – small domains of potentiality – that can become sites of design intervention to shift the path of innovation on a new trajectory: towards sustainable, resilient conditions. The critical characteristic of the design interventions is that they can ‘start small’, (so they are within the reach of community resources), and that they have large systemic effects. Our purpose: to intervene to re-invigorate the ecosystem of urban life and change the path of innovation and development towards resilient, low-carbon living. Our aim: to design small interventions that can redirect the forces – the meridian lines – that shape development, towards a more distributed system with ultra-low environmental impact (particularly in relation to greenhouse gas production) and greater social well being. The result: new projects ‘on-the-ground’ that can release new community energy and support for a new trajectory of development. We consider eco-acupuncture for the eco-system of urban life in the following way:

  1. Re-structuring essential ‘life support systems’: Energy; Water; Food;
  2. Realigning the essential ‘flows’ of social and economic life (to support the above): Transport and mobility; Information and knowledge
  3. Reshaping the physical, constructed, environment to enable the above changes. Physical infrastructure; Residential; Work/office/ commerce
  4. Restoring essential social services to function in the new urban eco-system: Economy and business; Education; Health
  5. Reinvigorating lifestyles for community health and sustainable prosperity. Creative expression; Leisure; Sharing

Eco-acupuncture design thinking

After three years of work VEIL is refining the concept of eco-acupuncture and learning from projects. The design materials for eco-acupuncture are both physical and informational. Information and communications technology appears to be critical, but the virtual – or digital – should be expressed within (aligned to) the real, material form of the intervention.

A set of approaches to design thinking for eco-acupuncture were defined at the beginning of the Re-visioning Hume project:

  • Encounter: Often ‘new’ things just have to be seen – and experienced – to become a real possibility in the minds of those who would otherwise reject the idea. (Think for example of developments offering smaller private space with greater, higher quality, public space; a good idea that often has to be experienced before it can be accepted as a reasonable trade-off.)
  • Replicate: Even a small design intervention can create interest in replicating (or adapting) it elsewhere. (‘If it works here, why not there’).
  • Amplify: Taking something that currently exists from obscurity to prominence and doing this through design. Small things may be able to grow to be large enough for wider impact through the agency of design.
  • Regenerate: ‘Old’ things – cultural or physical or economic – can sometimes be renewed and reinvigorated through design – the ‘lost’ becomes ‘found’ again.
  • Simplify: The existing world can become so large or complex that ‘connections’ can be broken; the feedback between action and impact for example; dependence on big systems can stifle imaginative action and local innovation.
  • Make transparent: Life-critical resource provision (e.g. water, energy, food) is often hidden so the pathways of production and consumption are essentially invisible. Making things (and information) visible – transparent – can change consumer awareness and behaviour.

Design studios

Project details

Time frame

This project is on-going year by year set of projects commenced 2009.


Approximate in-kind and cash per annum: $75,000

Funding contributors

  • Various Local Melbourne Councils
  • University of Melbourne
  • Government partners [anticipated future partners]
  • Hume City Council
  • Casey City Council
  • Brimbank City Council
  • City of Florence (Italy)
  • City of Port Philip
  • City of Frankston
  • City of Leeuwarden Netherlands

Industry partners

  • ARUP
  • Hassell
  • GHD
  • Aspect
  • David Lock Associates

Research institutions

  • University of Melbourne (VEIL/ABP)
  • RMIT (Industrial Design)

Key researchers

  • Dr Michael Trudgeon
  • Jess Bird
  • Prof Chris Ryan
  • Che Biggs
  • Kirsten Larsen
  • Kate Archdeacon