It is awards season again and, as usual, the presentation of the Australian Institute of Architects national architecture awards forms the core of the November issue of Architecture Australia. The premiated work is outstanding and points to the strength of Australia’s architectural culture. Readers who perused the outcomes of the state awards, published in the September issue of the magazine, will have already realized just how fierce the competition was – to be considered for the nationals is a significant achievement.
But, what purpose awards? Of course winning an award makes individual architects (and clients) very happy and, beyond personal gratification, awards can play an important role in the marketing of architectural practices. Award programs, like publishing, are also an important vehicle for drawing projects to the attention of the broader architectural community, making them available for the communal, consensual process that leads to the formation of architectural canons (as formulated by Juan Pablo Bonta). As I wrote way back in November 2003, now that the jury has drawn our attention to these projects it is up to the architectural community as a whole to decide, together and over time, which works will go on to form an indelible part of the country’s collective architectural consciousness.
But awards programs also have a role beyond promotion and the construction of the canon. This year our two “Critics Respond” pieces provide very different responses to the awards, arrived at through very different interpretative frames. Yet both expect the program to do more than simply record where things are at at the upper end of the profession. Philip Goldswain and Melinda Payne approach the awards in terms of what we might learn about architecture’s Ipotential contribution to culture and society. They look for projects that “advance an understanding of the architect as an agent for positive social, environmental and cultural change”. Eli Giannini’s statistical analysis of the state and national award outcomes leads to an impassioned plea for the program to engage with the depth and diversity of Australian architectural culture.
The diversity of practices included was one of the strengths of Now + When, the Australian contribution to this year’s Venice Architectural Biennale. Many of the practices represented are well known within Australia, but there is also a decent spread of younger, smaller or simply lesser-known contributors. With the Institute tending to select proposals that feature groups of contributors, it will be important to continue to pursue diversity in these exhibitions, lest the same architects represent Australia again and again.
Of course diversity is also a big issue for Architecture Australia. Like awards and international exhibitions, the standard for projects reviewed in the magazine is extremely high, and our leaning toward projects with a public component can unintentionally exclude younger or smaller practices. Yet we are very aware that there are many more meaningful projects and practices out there than feature regularly in the public culture of architecture. With this in mind, we are exploring ways to include a wider range of contributors within the pages of the magazine. The mapping exercises we conducted in the last issue, while extremely resource-intensive, offers one strategy, and we will pursue and develop others over the coming issues.
Look out for our requests for information – on twitter, email alerts and so on – as we explore things to map. We are beginning with work funded through the stimulus package, as outlined in the box to the right.
Justine Clark, editor Architecture Australia.