THE YEAR OF the Built Environment 2004 (YBE) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for architects and architecture to put up or shut up.
This sentiment may seem blunt, even terse, in a profession that has tended to exist in subtle shades of grey rather than unequivocal black and white. But it is unlikely we will have the chance again to stand before mainstream Australia and demonstrate why, in the often ill-informed and self-serving bear-pit that is the genesis of planning and development policy, our voice should be heard above the noise.
On one level, YBE is a long-overdue celebration of the realized dreams of architects, engineers and builders who over two centuries have created the fabric the nation wears today; it is a recognition of the then and now. On another, arguably much more important, level, YBE is a transparent public forum in which architects can connect directly with the agents of change in our community: the people who will make the future happen. Instead of our intellect, skills and insights being contemplated in the isolation of council chambers, planning offices and the rooms of select committees, we can prove our relevance to the community and the opinion makers and shapers that, ultimately, determine nonpartisan government policy in this country.
YBE can’t be just a feel-good celebration. It must be a Trojan Horse: the vehicle for a strategy to imprint the benefits of good design on the national psyche. Architects and the profession have clawed back a lot of the credibility at government and business level that was lost in the 1970s and ’80s. Now we have the opportunity to achieve something we have never had – the understanding, appreciation and concerned support, no matter how cautious, of the public.
It is worth revisiting the official founding statement of YBE 2004: “A collaborative initiative led by government, industry, environmental and community groups, aimed at fostering awareness about the built environment, its influence on our quality of life and directions for a positive and sustainable future.” At the risk of being pedantic, I will also repeat its overarching aim: “To encourage Australians to celebrate and understand how the built environment makes a difference to their quality of life and to foster a sense of community and purpose by setting directions for a positive and sustainable future.” ›› The word “future” is the key. And it dominates the six official themes of the year-long programme, which are: Towards Sustainable Communities, Healthy Environments, Excellence in Building, Our Built Heritage, Imagining the Future, Design for All.
By all means let’s celebrate the achievements of our profession and our planner, engineer, builder and environmentally aware partners in this country’s brief but formative history. It is, though, a professional past that will count for nought if we are cut out of the future at such a crucial stage in the planning and development of an Australia that is only now becoming truly aware of the complex and fragile state of our landscape.
There’s not an architect around who hasn’t despaired of ever achieving the commensurate recognition and reward for the hundreds of hours – many non-chargeable – spent advancing or defending a talent and contribution that, still, in many cases, are endured as a calling rather than celebrated as a career. The sounds of frustration and complaint are an intrinsic element of our professional landscape. Now is the chance to right the balance. Go to the RAIA website www.architecture.com.au or contact the RAIA chapter office in your state. Each chapter has a key contact who knows what is planned for next year and how individual architects can get involved.
In the much-quoted words of Gough Whitlam, as the ALP thirty years ago sensed destiny was at their shoulder, “It’s time.” Time to put up or shut up.
David Parken FRAIA, HONAIA
National President RAIA