World Architecture Day 2021

This World Architecture Day, we reflect on our profession with a perspective permanently altered by the unique period of time we are passing through.

The twin challenges of a global pandemic and a planetary climate crisis alter both the way we perceive and practice architecture.

The built environment’s core function in providing shelter to people has come to the fore like never before.

And that impacts how we practice.

Resilience has become a dominant influence in how we approach design. Today and into every tomorrow, we need our homes to do more to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their inhabitants.

In the face of more extreme temperatures and more frequent natural disasters, we need our homes to be more sophisticated in the shelter and protection they provide against everything from bushfire smoke to scorching hot summers.

Lockdowns were, for many, a brutal demonstration of the value of natural light, good ventilation and an intelligent use of space – or the lack thereof – in supporting a sense of wellbeing. This is where, as architects, we can add tremendous value to even the most modest structures.

We also need our buildings to be more sustainable than ever before.

Effectively responding to the climate crisis demands that we transition to a future of net-zero emissions. The Institute took that step by achieving carbon neutral certification this year and we are encouraging our members to do the same.

It also means our designs must, sooner rather than later, all deliver a net-zero built environment. Net-zero will become the norm and already we are seeing things like our national competency standards evolve to recognise this truth.

What both the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic also throw into stark relief is the widening social inequalities, so often given expression through housing insecurity.

We saw COVID-19 hit vulnerable communities, especially First Nations peoples, with disproportionate force, exacerbated by a severe lack of adequate housing in rural and regional towns.

People living in poorly designed public and social housing towers in our capital cities were also among the most adversely affected.

As so many of our members have demonstrated time and again, this doesn’t have to be the case. It’s not only to the wealthy that architects can add value.

Arguably, our greatest contribution can be using outstanding design to get the most out of a difficult site or a tight budget. The value we can add by using innovation to deliver far higher standards of housing in the public, social and affordable sectors.

The lockdown by LGA emphasised how those on the frontlines – the cleaners, teachers, nurses, emergency service personnel and other key workers – are more often than not forced to live at a distance to their place of work. These long commutes are unproductive and unsustainable.

We need our cities to function better in support of the people who keep them going.

We also need to keep investing in great public architecture. One of Australia’s most awarded projects last year was the Marrickville Library by BVN. This is just one example of the power architecture has to bring communities together, creating a civic hub for what many observe is one of the few remaining places people can go without the expectation of spending money. Public libraries are one of the few socially inclusive spaces we have left.

As the coronavirus pandemic hits not just the lives but also the livelihoods of so many, pressure on an already overburdened social housing system is being exacerbated.

Lockdowns have seen the scourge of domestic violence increase, with access to safe and affordable housing one of the biggest barriers to survivors leaving violent partners.

Furthermore, recent research from the Universities of Adelaide and South Australia reveals that an alarming 400,000 women over 45 are at risk of homelessness in Australia.[1]

This situation simply cannot continue.

From sustainability to secure housing, we need to apply our creativity, experience and expertise as architects in finding the solutions to these intractable issues of social justice.

Queensland University of Technology, Peter Coaldrake Education Precinct | Wilson Architects and Henning Larsen Architects, Architects in Association | Traditional Land Owners: Turrbal and Yugara people of Mianjin | Photographer: Christopher Frederick Jones