With the year rapidly moving toward its conclusion, the calendar of events and activities can get very intense. Within the last couple of weeks I have presented the latest instalment of my PhD, participated in a number of final year studio critiques and national council, as well as attending the announcement of the national awards. With practice operating across all of this, it might feel that I am operating on (too) many fronts, and it does seem like that at times like this. At once I am practitioner, teacher, councillor, and student.
But this connectivity does afford a window into the ecology of the profession – from the about to graduate, to the accomplished practitioner and there are some key commonalities that form dominant threads. The most common is that architects take leading roles in the way we shape our cities and environments. We are a responsible group who largely understand both the bigger picture, and the detail of what we do; the ramifications of the decisions we make and the policy framework that sits behind those decisions. For me this is reinforced at University, where students in their capstone projects are asked to respond to an issue and look at how an architectural intervention might address this issue; how might it contribute positively to what we do within a broader community of practice. The aim is to encourage good global citizenship and architectural excellence and these things are totally interconnected.
Under the shadow of COP 26, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the issues considered relate largely to the environmental impact that human settlement has on the planet. These concerns are expressed in multiple ways and through cultural means. One of the Institutes roles is to assist practitioners in participating in these broader issues. As both member based organisation and peak body, it allows us as a group to have a communal voice through advocacy and input into policy at many levels. Sitting in the last National Council meeting it was impressive to see the range of issues being addressed – from responses to member issues to the development of advocacy around climate policy. We have a clear position on this;
“The Institute advocates a zero-carbon construction industry by 2030. The built environment accounts for 39% of all carbon emissions, globally, with operational emissions accounting for 28%. The Institute recognises that its members are positioned as major contributors to the problem of climate change – and therefore a potential major contributor to its solution.’
The other key issue that thankfully, continues to emerge and fascinate is First Nations engagement, and it is no surprise that these two issues are often linked. Understanding the impacts of our work on the landscape, and understanding the landscape from other perspectives is critical to a healthy level of ‘new’ approaches to design.
While we all know this; much of it being developed over years and decades, it is critical to iterate; to underline our recognition of the problem and point toward potential responses – at both global and individual practice levels. We good at finding solutions to complex problems as practitioners, but it is harder to advocate for policy changes without a collective voice. The Institute is able to provide that collective voice negotiating and bypassing the often tricky commercial relationships we need to manage in practice.
Through our national awards programme, we select and celebrate the design excellence that reflects our collective position, and while these projects are peer selected, the programme has resonance beyond the profession; they are the outcomes of the writing of the narrative of Australian built culture. They are the projects we want to share with the broader community as reflecting our values, but they also form the evidence that our advocacy positions can be built on. While it has not been an easy year, it is rewarding to look back on the advocacy and discussions that the Institute has participated in or curated. It is important that our voice is heard and the responses to topics like the national registration framework, and the preparation of submissions have had and continue to have impact.