From the National President – November 2013

The end of the year must be close, because we have just completed another round of the National Architecture Awards. The 2012 Awards celebrated an outstanding crop of community-focused projects and poetic spaces, in the magical surrounds of Perth’s Midland Railway Workshops last Thursday night. This venue, a collection of early 20th century industrial buildings, acted as a strong reminder of the enormous value of sensitive adaptive re-use in reinvigorating heritage places and our appreciation of them, and in demonstrating sustainable approaches to development – a perfect backdrop to the evening’s events.

Thirty-three projects were recognised at the Awards Ceremony and a special congratulations should be given to Tasmanian projects, which took home two of the highest awards. MONA – Museum of Old and New Art by Fender Katsalidis was awarded the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture. It is the first time in the Awards’ 31-year history that a Tasmanian project has received the coveted award which is considered the Institute’s highest honour for a project. In this project, Fender Katsalidis has created a place which is intriguing and powerful in itself, and which has also significantly boosted tourism in Tasmania. Carved into a peninsula of Hobart’s Moorilla Estate, MONA’s waffle concrete and Corten steel container is both outlandish and enduring, and will weather inexorably into the landscape.

Equally deserving, The Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture – Houses, was awarded to The Shearer’s Quarters by John Wardle Architects. Appearing at first glance as a very simple form – an agricultural shed in the landscape – the spatial development and resolution of detail in this project is extremely sophisticated. It is fitting that The Shearer’s Quarters is described by the jury as ‘pure poetry’. In addition, extensive environmental initiatives have been undertaken throughout the property, including the significant re-vegetation of indigenous trees.

It is also significant that the diverse work of the members of the Institute, delivered at all scales throughout the country, is reflected in the 2012 National Award winners. The National Award winner for Small Project Architecture is Real Studio: Murphy’s Creek Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) by the Queensland University of Technology. This project was an initiative of around eighty students who gave up their holidays to work on site. ‘Real Studio’ saw the students design and construct a rural agricultural shed at Murphy’s Creek for use by the Bicentennial National Trail. The facilities are used by trail riders who follow the historic coach, pioneer and stock routes, packhorse trails and country roads that run the length of Australia’s east coast, replacing previous facilities destroyed in flash flooding in 2011. Where possible, the trail was designed as a ‘living history’ of Australia, and this philosophy has been mirrored in the building’s design, which retains elements of the previous structure. This project is an example of community engagement that shows how built environments can add value to the economic, environmental and social landscapes of Australia.

With a record 954 entries in the 2012 Awards program the Institute now opens the 2013 National Awards program, with some change and developments in progress for the upcoming year. Sustainability is one of the important areas of changes to the program. There is a much higher level of community awareness regarding the value of environmental sustainability and the need to respond to climate change since the introduction of the original Sustainable Architecture Award. For many projects with ambitions around sustainability, there is an understandable preoccupation with technical performance measured through rating tools, but the focus of the award is on the value of creative and intelligent thinking to achieve enduring, holistic and meaningful value through design.

The change we’re making for 2013 is the abolition of Sustainability as a separate category, the integration of sustainability as a requirement for all projects, and elevation of the Sustainability to offer a Named award. The award will no longer be entered directly, and juries will consider all entries on the basis of submitted descriptions of the sustainability values the project has generated in each of the environmental, social and economic domains. This reflects the Institute’s position that all projects should achieve a base level of sustainability at the very minimum, and that sustainability should no longer be regarded as an ‘extra’, but as an essential aspect of every project.

The Sustainability Award will also recognise integrated design in the broader ecological context. The award criteria are deliberately open ended to allow the jury to recognise exemplary contributions to sustainable architecture. The named award will be the David Oppenheim Award for Sustainable Architecture, at the National level.

I extend my congratulations to all of the 2012 Award winners and to the shortlisted projects. Also I thank all of the architects who entered projects in the 2012 Awards program. The Awards would not happen if architects did not put themselves and their work on the line by entering projects for consideration. It is not always easy, but each entry is highly valued as it contributes to our understanding of what is happening in Australian architecture, and to its advancement.

Shelley Penn