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NSW Government Architect’s Office faces decimation

The NSW Government Architect’s Office will be a major casualty in the state government’s proposed restructure of the NSW Public Works department.

The office will be decimated, going from 120 staff to just 12 over a two-year transition period, as reported in the Australian Financial Review. The office will also transition from its design and construct role to one of strategic design advice to help the government on infrastructure projects.

“We are greatly concerned by the loss of jobs,” said Shaun Carter, president of the Australian Institute of Architects NSW Chapter, who is looking to the government for more detail about the reforms.

The NSW Government hopes to push through its $60 billion infrastructure agenda. In the face of a 40 percent hit to government coffers causing a $300 million budget deficit, the government will be looking to the private sector for funding on infrastructure projects and repositioning itself as a “smart buyer” of services.

Major infrastructure projects such as a second harbour crossing, and Sydney’s second airport at Badgery’s Creek will require urgent strategic design advice. As well, the growth of Parramatta will need to be closely monitored. The Government Architect’s Office will be restructured to work with these projects.

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But Carter warns the staff cuts will severely affect the office’s ability to perform its role. “If you think about the office in just a strategic role with all the different [government] departments looking to procure buildings … those 12 people suddenly sound very busy to me,” Carter said.

“What the government should never lose is that strategic design-thinking capability that the Government Architect’s Office brings,” Carter continued. “We’d like to see that strategic division possibly taken out of Public Works and located more centrally in government.”

Cameraygal (formerly the Dunbar building) is one of four projects by the NSW Government Architect's Office shortlisted in the 2015 NSW Architecture Awards.

Cameraygal (formerly the Dunbar building) is one of four projects by the NSW Government Architect’s Office shortlisted in the 2015 NSW Architecture Awards.

Image: Simon Whitbread

Carter pointed out that in May 2015, the Office of Victorian Government Architect was returned to the Department of Premier and Cabinet from the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure. “It really should be the model of how governments should work with their own architects to get the best value for projects,” Carter said.

Carter also noted the NSW Government Architect’s Office should be positioned to help various other departments in the procurement of projects, including by offering advice on developing and interrogating a brief. “If you don’t get the brief right, you don’t get the project right,” he said. He also suggested the Government Architect’s Office should be central to running design excellence competitions and design review processes.

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The NSW Government Architect’s Office will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2016. In its history, the office has been responsible for a host of award-winning buildings across the state. It holds 11 Sulman Medals for Public Architecture from the Australian Institute of Architects. In 2015, it has no less than four projects shortlisted in the NSW Architecture Awards.

“If you think about the great public buildings that have been delivered, and keep in mind the principle that great cities are built around their public spaces, we’ve entrusted that to the Government Architect’s Office,” Carter said.

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