National design policy

Brian Zulaikha's introduction to the November 2011 issue of Architecture Australia.

Brian Zulaikha – National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, 2011–2012.

Brian Zulaikha – National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, 2011–2012.

As the buzz word of our time, the term “sustainability” might be losing some of its shine. But as buildings, cities and population centres face increasing challenges – from climate change to population growth – sustainability in design remains paramount.

Recent federal government commitments in this area are heartening. Among them, the release of the National Urban Policy and the Sustainable Population Strategy, but it is time to go further, to legislate comprehensive architectural policies Australia-wide.

Put simply, architectural policies provide a framework that makes it possible to work towards achieving a high level of quality. They recognize the importance of excellence in architecture and urban design to a nation’s social, cultural and economic development. They also inform and assist public authorities to make appropriate decisions in the development of our homes, towns and cities.

Architectural policies have been adopted in Finland, Scotland, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Norway and many other countries. Closer to home, a couple of Australian states are in the process of developing their own and we are already seeing the benefits of the New South W planning reforms of 2002 and, in particular, the State Environmental Planning Policy No 65 (SEPP 65).

The inception of SEPP 65 dates back eleven years, when former New South Wales premier Bob Carr approached the Urban Design Advisory Committee (UDAC). Following industry and public consultation, UDAC put together a comprehensive report and SEPP 65 was gazetted in July 2002.

SEPP 65 recognizes the economic, environmental, cultural and social benefits of high quality design of residential flat development. It necessitates that all residential developments over two storeys or four dwellings be designed and certified by registered architects and stipulates rigorous requirements for development applications. There is no question that the policy is delivering better, more liveable apartment designs.

Urban density is a core aspect of planning for sustainability in cities and more liveable apartment buildings are, in short, the answer to this. The introduction of policies such as SEPP 65 nationally would result in significantly improved multiresidential apartments around the country. It would ensure that projects contribute to the sustainable development of the built environment.

As a model for the other states, the requirements set out by SEPP 65 are: to achieve better built form and aesthetics of buildings and streetscapes and public spaces they define; to maximize amenity, safety and security for the benefit of occupants and the wider community; to minimize consumption of energy from non-renewable resources, conserve the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and to anticipate the increasing demand, the changing social and demographic profile of the community and the needs of the widest range of people. Of course, this isn’t a call for over-regulation; on the contrary, it is about effective control and acknowledging the true value of creativity, resourcefulness and high-quality design.

The states should commit to architectural policies because the quality of the built environment is an inherent responsibility of government. Of course, the quality of the built environment also has a positive impact on broader social and economic policy objectives. In addition, a policy would protect Australia’s built heritage and culture. The importance of design as the vehicle for better and more sustainable cities cannot be overstated.

That said, there is no doubt that Australian architects are world leaders when it comes to quality of design in the face of rising challenges, as has recently been demonstrated by the calibre of work entered in this year’s state architecture awards. And one need only peruse the Institute’s publication Inspire to be reminded what it is that Australian architects can, and do, achieve.

Brian Zulaikha – National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, 2011–2012.



Published online: 9 Feb 2012
Words: Brian Zulaikha


Architecture Australia, November 2011

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