We talk a lot about the execution and resolution of our projects. This seems to be the area of architecture we are comfortable discussing, showing and promoting: It’s a very outcome driven approach. And understandably so – it’s tangible, measurable, photographable and saleable. And ultimately that’s what we are often asked to deliver: built outcomes – it’s evident in our cities, in publications and through the Awards program. We talk about the design and design decisions – spatial arrangements, selection of materials and the ‘craft’ of composition.
Almost contrary to this, we don’t spend the bulk of our time doing this, and recently I have been thinking a lot more about what how we ‘make space’ for designing and making those design decisions. What I mean by this is how we set up a project so that we can design comfortably and confidently – without backtracking, with appropriate fees and resources, with solid understanding of the other frameworks that the project exists within. Some of this is simply experience and an understanding of the unfolding process, anticipating decisions that may need to be negotiated, but it is a more complex area that we need to embrace and understand. Some of this thinking comes out of my PhD by practice, and the self-awareness that’s generated by reflecting on past experience, and some comes out of my engagement with the Institute and other bodies. It is also clearly evident when you look at the work of established architects: I referred last year to 2021 Pritzker laureates Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal and their approach which invested in upfront research around the adaptation of existing structures. These approaches have resonance that we can look at in a range of ways, but it is this kind of ‘lessons in elbow room’ that I’m looking for.
While I have mentioned fees and resources, the ideas around a practice philosophy, around ongoing education and skills, around communication, and around research, are all part of the contextual organisation of a project that afford us the opportunity to design. These are longer term propositions that do not have a readily visible outcome. They are areas of design that we invest in that provide us with a solid platform that continues to respond to the changing landscape of parameters. This is critical to good design across the community and it is where the Institute helps to underpin the profession. We do things as a community that we can’t do as individuals, hopefully continuing to lift the quality of design, hopefully shaping the space to do what parts of practice we enjoy doing the most. As a national organisation the Institute undertakes a significant amount of work in these areas – from advocacy to participation in detailed research programmes, while responding to specific needs of members. But we do need to remember that we are a community organisation and we are only as good as the input we get from our members. There is a vast amount of resources on the Institute’s website alone and we continue to hone the content to respond to the unfolding contexts.
I am keen to get as much South Australian representation and relevance into all the content we produce and there are always opportunities to do that. At the moment we have a call out for small practice features in social media and I encourage you to take advantage of that. And while surveys are not the most engaging, they are a good way to refine some of the messaging, advocacy, or general content to help provide that space for design. We will for example, be looking for input into the developing practice guide which will be a highly useful day to day tool around resourcing of projects.
Obviously we are heading into the new year with clouds of uncertainty still hanging in the skies but the Institute continues to operate and build on the work we’ve been engaged in. I am looking forward to working with our Councils at State and National level and with our members here in SA to help provide that all-important design space.