During the recent Olympic Games in Sydney, I had the privilege of spending some time at the Homebush venue. I was with a group of architects some of whom were responsible for the master planning of the site while others had designed the venues. As well as experiencing the Olympics, we had discussions about the architectural profession’s role and future. The Olympic Games buildings illustrate some interesting aspects of the NSW Government’s approach to procurement: there was a strong emphasis on ESD principles; there was peer review of all design work; there was a concerted attempt to involve emerging practices; the architects were chosen by a variety of means, some of which were by fee bidding and some by negotiation; some of the projects were design construct bids and those that were not still had a strong contractor input; all projects were subjected to intense budgetary and time controls. The procurement processes were in no way ideal, and the architects were placed under enormous pressure to perform under what appeared at times to be exceptionally trying circumstances.
It is a testament to the skills of the profession that they not only met all the contractual requirements, but also proved themselves through producing high quality amenities for spectators, athletes and officials.
In a number of cases they have also succeeded in satisfying the very high standards of the RAIA design award process. Surely this exercise must demonstrate to the Australian public, as well as the world, the high standard of skills that reside in the Australian architectural profession.
The profile of the firms that designed facilities for the Homebush Olympic Park site illustrates the emergence in the profession of a growth of large national firms and smaller "boutique" firms. In fact the discussions with my fellow architects dwelt extensively with this trend in Australia of the divergence of firms into these two models of practice. Perhaps it mirrors a simultaneous move towards centralisation of decision-making on building procurement being made in Sydney and Melbourne.
This trend also mirrors what is occurring in other industries and professions. The development of internet technology and the use of CAD for design as well as production have allowed large firms to easily service clients in a number of regions. The Homebush experience shows us that not only large firms but also small firms were given opportunities in the procurement of the $3.3 billion construction program for the Olympics.
This was a rare opportunity for the profession to demonstrate to the public that we are capable of performing to a world standard. Despite all of the insecurity that was engendered by the productivity commission inquiry this year, it is evident that in the case of one of the most successful Olympics ever staged, that our profession delivered a gold medal result.