It is an honour to begin my tenure as National President of the Australian Institute of Architects.
I would like to acknowledge the tireless work that has been done before me in the most challenging of years by Immediate Past President Helen Lochhead and outgoing National President Alice Hampson; these two impressive leaders have navigated us through unchartered waters, leaving us with a resilient and contemporary structure.
In introducing myself to Institute members, I would like to relay my journey and background to help you understand the agenda for the coming months, which may be a bit different to previous years.
I am not big on protocols, exclusivity and privilege.
I was born in Italy, and migrated to Australia at three, after Dad landed here some six months prior on an assisted passage migrant scheme. We lived in a house shared with three extended families. I didn’t speak English on my first day of school, but soon became the extended family’s interpreter, form filler and keeper of family secrets before I turned 12. We helped each other; shared everything; grew and made everything. We welcomed our Aussie neighbours into our home for Sunday lunches under the vines and importantly celebrated every milestone as a family.
We rode bikes, made our smallgoods, pasta and sauce (and still do). But how things have changed! Although I’m not sure our translated Italian aspirational design aesthetic on our parent’s houses got it right in the 70’s and 80’s.
I grew up in a multi-cultural melting pot and experienced diversity, racism and the expectations of conforming. University was free and a great social leveller where freedom of social boundaries allowed us to prosper and be ourselves.
My business partners Fran and Gary and I started our practice before we were thirty at the start of the 1989 global financial crisis. We endured the hardships of the emerging architect and now understand the importance of being able to give back and foster mentorship.
Architecture has been a kind and wonderful journey. It has allowed me to practice with my high school friends over the last 33 years. Our portfolio of work has given me the credibility to talk internationally. Particularly fond memories include speaking in the Italian UNESCO World Heritage City of Mantova and delivering a lecture at the Chinese Academy of Fine Arts on the future of our profession.
Over the last few years, I have accidentally stumbled back into the university world where I have been able to facilitate connections between industry and teaching and have been lucky to be bestowed with the Professor title.
My experiences frame a conversation that I would like to extend over the year on the importance of the voice of ageism in our profession and that of multicultural Australia. I would also like to promote the role of the emerging architect and encourage the regeneration of our membership to a contemporary group, forward-thinking and without boundaries.
Architecture in its most simplistic notion responds to the basic principles of shelter and anthropology in all cultures; to put a roof over everybody’s head whilst acknowledging the terroir of our Country.
Many in our communities across Australia still sleep on the streets as governments turn a blind eye. Perhaps this year we can focus on an agenda of social responsibility to promote and provide shelter to those most in need, and as a profession contribute strongly to its advocacy.
The Covid pause has amplified a need to reflect on our social values and the things that are important. It has shown that we can find shelter for the needy when we have to and if we want to.
As a profession in this luckiest of countries, we can get hung up on inward looking first world problems that date back to some out-dated perception of our privileged standing in the community.
In the end, the only people that will think that what we do is relevant are the people we serve. The real privilege of our profession is that it allows us to design spaces and environments for people to live, work and play. It is a responsibility that should never be taken lightly or for granted. It allows us to design and procure a space that influences society to inhabit, grow up and age in regardless of whether we win design awards.
Perhaps it is about being an architect in society and not about architecture in society.
Perhaps this year we can pause the grandeur and self-gratification and enjoy a different journey for the months ahead.
Perhaps we can forgo the perception of being patrons to exclusivity in design, and instead we are patrons for social shelter, our environment, generational and cultural storytelling. Perhaps we can make fostering our next generation a greater priority. It would be an honour to help move the Institute and our profession towards this goal during my presidency.