It’s now three months since I was appointed as WA Government Architect, the 14th since George Temple-Poole inaugurated the office as ‘Principal Architect’ in 1891, ten years before Western Australia entered Federation.
His job description would have been somewhat different, focusing on creating the key civic and institutional buildings and places for a fledgling colony. More than a century later, my main role is to enhance that built environment, and, in offering expert advice to the Premier and the Planning Minister on key developments, to ensure that it is ‘distinctive’ and of high quality. Times may have changed, but one guiding principle has not: what remains front and centre for both me and Temple-Poole, as for the succession of Principal and then Government Architects—in fact what never strays far from any architect’s consciousness—is the primacy of good design.
I have a clear brief in ensuring that design quality remains a paramount consideration in all proposals involving the Office of the Government Architect. I have also been appointed Chair of the Western Australia Planning Commission’s State Design Review Panel, which, as the Government’s major planning reforms are rolled out, presents both challenges and opportunities. In the immediate present, there is an enormous workload driven by COVID-recovery large-scale development applications —as many as 90 or more of these are expected to present over the next 18 months. In the longer term, we will be judged on how the actions we take now contribute to creating a quality built environment legacy for the community.
Through all this activity and change, my core responsibility as Government Architect remains delivering a built environment that gives Western Australians a sense of identity and belonging—and this includes an inclusive sense of our shared heritage—without compromising functionality, quality, amenity, sustainability, aesthetics or efficiency. The key to this is ensuring that good design is a priority for both proponents and stakeholders, from the earliest stages of project conception.
Asked recently if I have formed any general impression from my ‘first 100 days’ as Government Architect, my immediate response was ‘I seem to spend a LOT of time in meetings’. This is not a complaint, but a necessary truth. So much of this role depends on clear understanding and good face-to-face communication. Communication is the basis of good decision-making. I can see that I will be drawing heavily on my experience as a mediator as well as an architect, and that my many years of working closely with the Institute will stand me in good stead.