To Infinity and Beyond

Astra Aerolab

 To Infinity And Beyond
In a time when the “build it and they will come” philosophy often no longer delivers, Frost’s place visioning offer is providing a way to create unique places from a human-centred perspective.
In particular, our ability to align place visioning, brand strategy and marketing, means we simplify the process of creating a blueprint for a place and telling its story, carrying this all the way through to wayfinding and place activations. Few other firms globally have the capability to deliver as comprehensively from end-to-end.

Newcastle Airport

Newcastle’s economy has been going through profound change. And Newcastle Airport was keen to be at the forefront of driving new opportunities when they commissioned Frost* to work with them to develop the place vision, brand strategy, naming and identity for an unprecedented new project to create a technology hub focused on global leadership in aerospace, and in particular the global F-35 Jet Strike Force.
RAAF Williamtown is Australia’s primary base for the F-35s, which are in themselves a marvel of innovation, and set the stage for pioneering new technologies, advanced manufacturing, aviation-based medical research, new skills in trades and so much more.
Our objective was to bring shape to a destination that didn’t yet exist, looking beyond the physical infrastructure, to how to create the climate for innovation and nurturing talent to excel at elite levels. In place of a business park simply dividing up land and spaces, our focus was on creating a unique place experience that would drive performance.

Uncovering human needs

Understanding that unlocking talent is all about understanding peoples’ needs, we crafted a bespoke discovery process that started with consultation with key stakeholders in areas such as defence, education, aviation and economic development, conducting workshops to align and inspire.
This was followed by in-depth interviews with future users, who could really help us get under the skin of what would make the right conditions for a world-leading aerospace innovation hub.
By classing the users into personas we brought to life the needs, painpoints and opportunities for the different users so that every decision can be made from a perspective of each user group, adding an evidence-driven, human layer.
Many of the insights would never come to the fore in typical place planning, and yet they uncovered important drivers for how to unlock potential in a way never done before.
For example, we found that many of the future users were in high stress roles – such as working in a loud, smell-ridden hangar on high-intensity tasks for many hours on end. To them, being able to step out into a place of natural beauty for a run or just to take in the air, was a high priority.
Many users also had to drive for long periods to get to work, and wanted a one-stop-shop destination that would simplify and streamline their day.
Additionally, people felt that their work environment was cold and impersonal, with little access to the outdoors or natural light, and that their current spaces felt uninspiring.
When asked what failure would look like for the development, a “concrete jungle” was the universal reply, and yet this is exactly how most business parks are planned.

Finding True North

Following this exhaustive discovery period, we needed to define exactly what we wanted to be – and exactly what we weren’t – in order to deliver a very focused ‘true north’ solution.
We conducted research into other aviation and defence centres globally to understand their vision and how they tell their stories, finding overwhelming clichés and similarities in how aerospace is typically portrayed – which was often predominantly masculine and lacking in warmth.
We saw there was a real opportunity to be the first aerospace technology hub that also put a high value on lifestyle and the physical and emotional wellbeing of its people.
From this, the guiding idea of “Uplifting” was born. An idea that positions the development as a one-of-a-kind place where global aerospace, an airport, and outstanding lifestyle come together to drive exceptional performance. Uplifting people and businesses so they can go higher than otherwise possible.
Uplifting for individuals, creating the ideal location for them to be the best they can be. Uplifting for partners, creating the optimal conditions in aerospace for success. Uplifting for place by giving Australia a competitive advantage that flows through to NSW leadership in aerospace and stimulus for the Hunter region.
To bring this vision to life, we created a set of values informed by our critical discoveries: Beauty, Diversity, Belonging and Remarkability. These were supported by Place Pillars to show how the values could be brought to life in practice.
For example, this means beautifully designed spaces and buildings with a human-scale, rather than harsh, concrete boxes. It means a connection with nature, where users can enjoy daily walks around the lakes, walking and cycling tracks, places to sit outside and natural light indoors. It means championing wellbeing with on onsite gym, meditation and yoga facility, beautician and life coach.
It means bringing the world-class aspects of the Hunter onsite to create community and belonging, such as food, produce, local artisans and businesses, a bus to the beach, and celebration of the indigenous story.
It means celebrating what matters and having a strong sense of team shown in magic movements such as bonding events, team sports, conferences and so on. Congratulating others as a daily practice emphasizes the diversity of work happening on the site. A countdown clock to the next F-35 arrival or celebrating the return of RAAF pilots.

To the stars

We then set about crafting how to tell the story of this remarkable new place, starting with its name and identity. Frost* Strategy Director Cat Burgess explains: “The word ‘Astra’ means ‘stars’ in Latin, while the word ‘Aerolab’ references to a new type of place focused on aerospace innovation, the perfect characterisation of this new and disruptive format.” The name sounds prestigious and of global influence; being strong and aspirational in nature. It’s short and easy to say and connects well with the Airforce motto “Per ardour ad astra” which translates to: “through adversity to the stars”.

The Outcome

Frost* is playing an ongoing role in the Astra Aerolab development, and most recently addressing a think-tank of masterplanners, architects, education and other partners who are now focused on bringing the vision to life.
Burgess explains: “We’re creating a place where people will want to be – placing a high value on beauty and calm, valuing diversity, building a strong sense of community and making the remarkable our minimum standard.”
Newcastle Airport CEO Peter Cock says “Frost’s human-centred approach has given us a place vision and brand that has the level of uniqueness needed for a project of this scale and ambition. Their dedication to digging deep and truly unlocking the potential of this project was outstanding”.

“The nucleus of our vision is centred around the idea of ‘Uplifting’. This relates to the concept of uplifting Australia’s defence capacity, the Hunter’s economy, business performance and the spirits and capability of individuals. It’s about uplifting people and businesses so that they can go higher than otherwise possible at the world’s most uplifting aerospace cluster.”

Cat Burgess
Strategy Director