THE NATIONAL AWARDS on 30 October are more than a celebration of Australian architecture’s “best of the best”. They provide an opportunity to take stock, to reassess our true worth and function in the community of the new millennium; to consider whether we are leaders in a rapidly changing world, or merely followers whose role is to respond appropriately to change as it occurs. There is a growing sense within the profession that the time is right to stop reacting to the issues that shape our operating environment and start driving the future ourselves.
If we are to take on the mantle of leadership, the RAIA awards a decade from now will bear only passing resemblance to those of 2003. The Award for Sustainable Architecture, for example, will be redundant: projects won’t even be considered for awards unless they demonstrate a measurable commitment to principles of sustainability. In a broader sweep, the awards categories will change to reflect the new strategic thrust of architecture – where the relationship of structures to their context, and their contribution to the built and human community, has a greater weighting than the intrinsic quality of the structures themselves. In this way, the Walter Burley Griffin Award for Urban Design will be the most prestigious award of the year.
The emphasis on community as well as professional and intellectual leadership will show in the diversity of awards for housing. Technology is changing our way of life and the traditional spatial orders and relationships. Equity and accessibility issues will create radical new living arrangements and building types.
In response to the property boom’s impact on housing affordability, especially in urban Australia, architects will be proponents of self-funded community housing, where groups of first-home buyers or lower-income residents are brought together to pool their resources and design and construct their own housing development. Architects will research the issues, including the legal and financial requirements, design the projects and administer them to completion. In conjunction with state and local authorities, architects will have developed an umbrella of back-packer-style serviced accommodation for the disadvantaged. In the style of the New Urbanists and similar movements in the US and Europe, design-driven urban revitalization will have spawned mainstream awards for “livable cities” and “walkable cities”; and brickbats for contributing to urban sprawl.
If for no other reason, we will have been spurred on by the shame that a country of such wealth is seemingly no longer prepared to put a priority on providing good housing for all; the dwelling is the base unit of our professional and intellectual currency.
As leaders a decade hence, architects will be prospering because they will be integral to making the future happen, indispensable to the community achieving a sustainable future. The built environment will be associated less with iconic forms and more for a design language speaking of productivity, amenity, well-being, neighborhood, learning, efficiency, economy and security.Whether commercial or residential, public or industrial, building types will be in-house labels, existing in the shadows of the human and community outcomes they promote.
These scenarios are just glimpses of a possible future. They may not materialize or may not even be seen as desirable by our members. But whether we are to be leaders or followers should be decided now. The awards are our most public display of the respect and pride we have for what we do. Subconsciously, they are also an indicator of where we fit in the machine that is society; whether we are drivers or passengers. Whether we are in the business of designing good buildings or great, sustainable communities.
David Parken FRAIA, HONAIA
National President RAIA