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This is an article from the Architecture Australia archives and may use outdated formatting

A Public Voice

The last two paragraphs of Naomi Stead’s review of Place Makers – Contemporary Queensland Architecture at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art, state the essence of our failing role as architects. (Architecture Australia vol 97 no 6, Nov/Dec 2008).

We are not the masters of our built environment. Until we see a dominance of architect-designed buildings along the streets of our suburbs, towns and cities we are not providing a designed built environment, only infrequent gems among the mediocre and rubble.

As architects, we fall in love with architecture and busy ourselves in our client’s needs. We ignore or abhor peripheral activities essential to our impact on the majority of planning and building activity.

A study and comparison with the legal and medical profession will give us some insight. Unlike these professions, we offer a service not well protected by law and usurped by building design and CAD drafting services. Look in the Yellow Pages. You can get by without us. Lawyers, medicos, pharmacists and accountants hold hands and protect their influence, roles and incomes. They enter politics, government and allied corporate boards. We architects fee compete with each other for clients. Sometimes we are in the business of putting each other out of business.

More of us must leave the mainstream of our profession to lead, advance and protect our profession. We need more architects in the wider public arena, in politics, government and media. We cannot influence sufficiently with the example of our built product. We need wider, more diverse avenues of activity to increase the percentages of architect-designed buildings, particularly within the housing market. We must enter the fray of building development.

Once we had a Victorian house bureau offering affordable architecture, and we had public voices – Robin Boyd to coerce and Harry Seidler to persist. Currently we have no public notable presence. Our newspapers, TV and media don’t have a household name, an architectural advocate or critic. No Ada Louise Huxtable or Paul Goldberger as in the USA. We are an enclosed order – the converting talking to the converted. If we are not the intellect of the built environment and the leadership of the construction industry, who should be?

Recent times have been good to us, and we have picked and chosen frequently. As we remember the hard times we should list our lessons as recession clouds become visible.

Do our high standards relegate us to designing a small percent of the housing market, as we desert a mass market that is abhorrent to us, but which is also undesirable for our built environment and for the housing inhabitants. What design standards can we justify for the good of a broad society? What is our responsibility to the total built environment? What is selfish and what is fair, just and moral?

These may be overstated views, and I accept some disagreement and exceptions. But we should be careful. We could be relegated, exclusive to the private well-hidden buildings for the privileged, dressed in black and living in white houses.

You should visit this exhibition and see the excellence of our architecture. You won’t see their like on a Sunday drive.

John Railton FRAIA


The Australian Institute of Architects tells us that the credit supplied for the 2008 Walter Burley Griffin Award for Urban Design and published in Architecture Australia vol 97 no 6 Nov/Dec 2008 was incorrect, as it inadvertently omitted Civitas Urban Design and Planning. The correct attribution for the Rouse Hill Town Centre is Rice Daubney, Allen Jack + Cottier and Group GSA in association with Civitas Urban Design and Planning.



Published online: 1 Jan 2009


Architecture Australia, January 2009

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