On the Future of Architecture – from the SA Chapter President

Through my position as Chapter President, one of the more recent and surprising revelations is the lack of understanding of our profession. Not just within the general public, but within our allied professions and the broader building industry. And here, I am particularly referring to the levels of education, training, and accreditation that we as architects have to achieve before claiming the title ‘Architect.’ As we know, this currently sits at a Bachelors degree, a Masters degree, a minimum of 2 years practice, a multi-level registration exam, and ongoing Continued Professional Development (CPD).

This has been brought to sharp focus with the emergence of the National Registration Framework (NRF). An outcome of the response to the Shergold Weir building confidence report, The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has recommended that all participants within the industry are registered – from Architects to trades. It doesn’t seem to matter that we are already bound to a registration framework, and potentially, will be asked to register twice.

While the report is a national document, the administration of the building industry remains with the State, and in South Australia we wait to see how this will roll out. While this is in play the Institute is lobbying, together with the Association of Consulting Architects (ACA) and others for recognition and a reasonable position within the proposed framework. As it stands this is not the case – Architects are considered on the same level as building designers, and our current qualifications are not necessarily considered.

Potentially this has far-reaching ramifications – from our ability to work in key areas through to the delivery of Masters programs at University. Again, this seems to be underpinned by a lack of understanding of the degree frameworks and our levels of qualification more broadly. Given this is happening, we need to ask ourselves why?

It is clear that the ecology of the building industry – particularly around multi-residential housing – is far from healthy. If we look at the recent incidents in Sydney related to cracking, collapse in Miami in addition to the fire risks of aluminium cladding, it is perhaps understandable that the industry is under heavy scrutiny. While we as architects do have to comply with relatively rigorous frameworks and on the whole we are largely well trained, given the shifting ground in both the education and delivery end, combined with an increasingly competitive day to day scenario, it is useful, indeed necessary to have a look at our individual and collective positions. As some people have said, this is a wake-up call, and if we don’t wake up we will find ourselves even more marginalised.

One of the main characteristics of engaging architects is around quality. This is one of the key drivers of how we operate and how we engage with the community. We provide quality work that leads to better outcomes that provide longer-term benefits for the community. But to do this effectively, we need to be engaged properly. We need a solid platform to provide good outcomes. This means proper levels of fees, and fair and reasonable contract conditions.

While we, as the Institute continue to lobby and try to assist in the provision of this platform, we can only do this through our ability to point at our credentials and through successful work. We need our house in order. Our work with the Master Builders Association (MBA) and others around procurement conditions, and our lobbying around the NRF is only as credible as we are. The Institute is a member organisation and we are only as strong as our individual members. It is incredibly important at this time we do what we can to solidify our position. In practice this means maintaining our integrity over fees and maintaining our CPD. While much of the current scenario is outside the control of individual architects, these things are interconnected and we need to take that responsibility. Designing buildings and cities is a complex exercise requiring significant expertise and it is important that we continue to push the boundaries and strive for excellent outcomes.

Anthony Coupe
South Australia Chapter President

Image: Swanbury Penglase Office | Swanbury Penglase | Photographer: Sam Noonan