After years of advocacy, South Australia’s new design commission has strong backing and bold ambitions.
In essence, integrated design recognizes that the design process is not a set of distinct and linear steps, but is a series of overlapping and interdependent, multi-disciplinary collaborations.
With Premier Mike Rann’s announcement of a Commission for Integrated Design, advisory board and government architect in December 2009, a line was neatly drawn under decades of neglect by successive governments of the built environment in South Australia. The premier chose to announce the initiative on South Australia’s Proclamation Day, which celebrates the founding of the state in 1836. While some have wondered if this was an attempt to “bury” the announcement in the post-Christmas haze, it has to be remembered that 2010 is an election year in SA and the alternative would have been for the launch to become politicized in the heat of the campaign.
In selecting Proclamation Day for the announcement, the premier has linked the commission with the state’s heritage, and declared that it provides a key to the state’s future. It follows neatly from the development of a 30-Year Plan which outlines a strategic vision for urban growth in Adelaide, and the commission can be expected to have a role in the plan’s implementation. By announcing it outside the campaign proper, the premier also ensures that the essential “architecture” of the commission is in place regardless of the outcome of the March poll.
The origins of this new commission lie in a confluence of factors dating back fifteen years. Underlying the more recent events has been a quiet and consistent push by the profession for a government architect. Without success. However, Rann is well positioned for a third term and may be looking to secure a lasting legacy. Key individuals within the premier’s office understand the value of design thinking in policy. But the primary enabler has been the recent work of Professor Laura Lee.
Laura Lee is a Professor of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh – the first architect to be appointed to SA’s Thinker in Residence program. During her residency in 2009, Laura engaged widely and exhaustively with the profession, design and engineering disciplines, government and non-government agencies to explore how design thinking could be integrated throughout government, and to encourage the design and construction industries and the academic sector to continue to build expertise.
In essence, integrated design recognizes that the design process is not a set of distinct and linear steps, but is a series of overlapping and interdependent, multi-disciplinary collaborations. While this may not be a new concept to the profession, the message is a crucial one for government. Facilitating a process like this requires a structural rethink of public sector methodology, which tends to silo responsibility for policy delivery to individual agencies. More needs to be done to work across agencies, to build and promote knowledge of the preconditions for sustainable design and innovative construction, to build capacity and to reflect this in policy. The word “collaboration” here includes commissioning agents (including government), contractors and researchers to drive an expanded concept of project delivery. And critically, it assumes a deep and genuine engagement with the community.
In Victoria, some of this is achieved through the Government Architect’s Office, perhaps the optimal model of all the states. In South Australia, the net will be cast wider still with a Commissioner for Integrated Design seated within the Department of the Premier and Cabinet. Alongside the commissioner, a government architect is expected to provide strategic advice to government on the built environment and engage as necessary with relevant departments, authorities, professional associations and research centres. The commission appears appropriately resourced and supported in its bold ambitions. Crucially, it seems that government commitment is strong.
South Australia may be the last Australian state to appoint a government architect, but there are signs that the commission will provide a genuinely new model for a “design authority” that strengthens the voice of the profession and expands the influence of architects, planners, landscape architects and engineers in the built environment.
Timothy Horton is President of the SA Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects and a senior associate at Hassell.