From the National President – July 2012

It has been a busy month, with the Institute’s State and Territory Awards in full swing.

I’ve been very fortunate to attend six of the Institute’s awards events so far, having travelled to Canberra, Darwin, Hobart, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne over the past few weeks. This week I look forward to the WA Awards tomorrow night (Friday 6 July) and the SA Awards on Saturday night (7 July). This period has allowed me to experience the incredible breadth and diversity of work Australian architects are doing, and has been an inspiring way to begin a year as President of the Institute.

The Institute Awards provide an important measure for the past year – not only of design innovation, but also of industry health. While we know that economic uncertainty is impacting on practices, if we look at the awards to date, there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with the state of design quality in the Country. On the contrary, Australian architects are continuing to deliver outstanding work, at all scales.

The Awards are one key way the Institute celebrates and raises awareness of the value of design excellence. Good design is not just about good looks, but is about intelligent, effective, sustainable solutions – places which are fit for purpose, innovative, on budget, inclusive and also delightful. But good design can be hard to measure, and requires informed advice and expert judgement. Government and large private sector clients will achieve great outcomes if they’re well advised and if they make design quality a priority. The same is true for small project clients who must commit to the need for design quality if they want a project which will meet and hopefully transcend their expectations.

As I’ve mentioned at some of the awards nights, one of my priorities in the role of President is to encourage and support Australian architects to exercise those capabilities that characterise our approach and enable us to contribute much to society – inherent lateral thinking, irrepressible innovation, practicality, and an optimism for positive solutions that is relevant to a broader range of outputs than built places.

Through raising awareness of the value of design quality, the awards aim to support the important contribution architects make to a more sustainable, economically buoyant, healthy and beautiful built environment. Architects have both the desire and capability to contribute to better social outcomes, in a range of ways, and we also have a responsibility to do so. It’s not enough to be professional and competent, although those are essential. I believe we should exercise our capabilities with vigour, and strive for excellence in all of our work, at whatever scale and in whatever way we work as architects.

Our diverse modes of practice, and the different approaches to making architecture that I’ve witnessed in the past month reinforce this for me. Our outputs, whether in the form of architecture, or through research, advice, or actions that support excellence in the architecture of others or our built environment more generally, have an impact. When we work with passion and integrity, what consistently emerges from that diverse base, is work of exceptional quality, which benefits us all.

Shelley Penn