Following the last Institute National Council meeting – which I had to attend via digital means due to the persistent pandemic – I came away with a sense that, perhaps more than ever before, we are very closely aligned across the entire country. The issues we face in general are similar, and our objectives, projects and policies resonate across state boundaries.
One of the key things we regularly discuss is how to affect change within the broader community. Advocacy is a key part of the Institute’s objectives and that has come into sharper focus with the recent South Australian State election. We, like many other organisations, have prepared position statements and pushed these towards both parties during the campaign. These positions are well documented and it is important that as both a peak body and a member organisation, we are part of the conversation. Issues around sustainability are often first and foremost within that dialogue, with the building industry (depending on where you set the parameters) contributing over 30% of global carbon emissions. Most practices are highly aware of this and engage in programs to help address outputs – both through their own day-to-day practices as well as the work they are designing and producing.
Architects are only involved in a small portion of the delivery of housing, but we can lead by example, and we are lobbying for better and more equitable models. The Institute has recently signed an MOU with Housing All Australians alongside a range of other investigations that aim to address housing issues. These all assist in our ability to lobby and provide robust positions and answers toward the housing crisis.
We are not the only ones who lobby: We recently saw the Housing Industry Association lobbying for increased spending on the housing construction sector. The Government has often used this part of the industry to ‘fire up’ the economy, but that is now an outmoded and unsustainable approach. Compounding problems within this sector is the fact that individual houses are around 50% larger than they were 35 years ago growing from 150sqm to over 200sqm, sheltering significantly less people for that same space. This also has impact on the broader urban environment and green space in particular, concisely discussed in President Elect Shannon Battison’s recent piece where she called for smaller footprint houses. Obviously this push toward larger houses is unsustainable: It is also a clear indicator of the growing wealth gap that underpins the housing crisis.
Governments are always looking to bodies like ours for answers and ideas around best practices. In a healthy community they rely on independent professional bodies to provide guidance and reflective comment. As a collective, we can point to programs that embody more successful outcomes and help articulate policies. We can also continue to strive for best practice in our own work, and in many ways this is one of the reasons why the awards program is important. It allows us to indicate publicly what we think good design is and why it is important.
As we move into a new administration in South Australia we will continue to advocate for the profession and for better community outcomes. We will continue to monitor – through engagement with the membership, both local and interstate – programs like the Planning system and offer continuous feedback aiming to make sure these are supported in line with their strategic aims.