From the Tasmanian Chapter President

As no doubt everyone is aware, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a worldwide impact on businesses and individuals. In Tasmania, we have not been isolated from this.

Change is difficult at the best of times, but forced change, quickly and under duress, is never easy. After the initial few weeks of upheaval, many are struggling, trying to undertake work where it still exists. There is no right way to approach this new normal and feedback suggests our members are adapting their processes and resources to meet workloads and deadlines.

The Australian Institute of Architects is fully committed to supporting its members during this crisis. Although the Tasmanian Chapter’s Hobart office is closed, Jennifer and her team continue to work remotely in order to serve members. 

Photographer: Nina Hamilton

The Chapter office contact details remain the same, with the general phone number (6214 1500) being diverted to Jennifer’s mobile, and all other staff are contactable via the number in their email signatures.

All in-person Institute events until the foreseeable future are being either postponed or held electronically. This includes CPD events, member events, Chapter Council meetings and other committee meetings, along with the awards presentations. Keep an eye out on the Institute’s event page for details how to access events, as this is updated regularly.

We appreciate that COVID-19 is a source of concern for many, from both a health and a financial perspective. The Institute has been extremely busy during the last month on many fronts, and we continue to advocate both locally and nationally in regard to issues that affect both architects and the broader building and construction industry, which is especially critical at this time. We are actively working with Master Builders Tasmania, and with the Tasmanian Minister for Building and Construction, the Hon. Elise Archer, MP, to assist with steps that can help the industry stay on its feet.

It is important that the Institute engage with and keep members connected during this time. To assist, the Institute has introduced options for reduced fees for members suffering financial hardship in order to retain membership. If members and practices are suffering financial hardship, please contact the Institute office for details regarding opportunities for membership fee relief.

The Institute has created a web page containing a comprehensive suite of information for members about various issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Information covered includes government updates, government support available to members, JobKeeker payments, details of the economic stimulus package, business information hotlines, plus links to additional resources, including practical information such as links to online teleconferencing facilities. There is also a Tasmanian-specific page that contains a number of free CPD sessions that are available to all, so also remember to check that out as well.

The Institute’s online COVID-19 resources also includes links to our “Lean In Sessions”. These are a series of free online forums managed by the Institute, scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12 noon. They are an online forum led by experts on topics pertinent to members in this time. Some issues already covered include stress management, managing wage costs, commercial contracts and operations during a pandemic, mental health and many more. Past sessions are available on the Institute website and member feedback suggests that they have proven informative and useful to many members.

Keeping sane while working from home is critical and I would encourage everyone and anyone experiencing mental health issues as a result of isolation to please seek help. Help can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue via phone, 1300 224 636, or their online chat service.

The Institute’s online resources are updated regularly so please visit regularly and keep connected and informed.

Keeping connected is important and there are a wealth of online social options to fill any archi-nerd’s social void. Check out the twice-weekly Isolation Talks series offered by The Architect’s Bookshop. There have been five to date and they have been amazing to watch each evening with a glass of wine. Brickworks are also doing a series called, At Home with Architects, with their next session on Wednesday.

Also check out numerous podcast options too numerous to name, but I’ll provide a few of my favourites regardless: Dezeen’s Face to Face, the London Festival of Architecture’s Architecture Masters, Scaffold with Matthew Blunderfield, Register from the Kingston School of Architecture, Blueprint For Living by the ABC, Design and Architecture by KCRW and The New Architects Podcast. There’s also our very own EmAGN podcast, Hearing Architecture that has cameos from a few local members!

If members have suggestions for either online content for the Institute’s COVID-19 page or links to online architecture and design content that members will find interesting and informative, please don’t hesitate to let the Chapter team know and we can share them as appropriate.

By any means we are not out of this crisis and I have no doubt that the repercussions will reverberate throughout our industry for many years. But for me, while at home, I begin to think about what this means for our future practice: what changes? What good, and what opportunities emerge out of this for our community?

When we do come out of this, the world and its economies will rebuild and reestablish a new order. Will some of the issues that our communities were grappling with prior to this still be relevant? For example, what does the current crisis mean for climate change, the growing economic disparity, the housing crisis and diversity within the workplace? Are these still relevant or is this an opportunity to recalibrate and address these in another way?

Take diversity in the workplace as an example. Has the recent crisis and our subsequent experimentation with online conferencing and communications given us increased confidence to accommodate increased working from home? Does the slower work cycle create opportunity for increased part-time work, supporting those who this work structure benefits most, such as families with children or people with diverse interests?

I think there are a number of important broad opportunities that may come from this time.

One opportunity is the large-scale acceptance of our vulnerability. It has needed a global disaster to force all levels of society, governments, businesses and individuals to act. Other issues similarly pose threats to lives but have so far lacked thorough responses. If this crisis can teach us to accept our vulnerability, we should be in a better position to meaningfully prepare for them.

Accepting the notion that we are globally connected creates many opportunities. It is debatable whether this disaster will push us toward national localist, or global connectedness. Anything that promotes the notion that we are all connected despite geography, politics or circumstance has the power to build momentum for large scale action on other key issues.

I hope this encourages us to be a more compassionate society. The disaster response has made the plight of the most forgotten and vulnerable to become top priority for individuals, businesses and governments. It would be wonderful if this compassion and action for protecting and caring for the most vulnerable people in all contexts could be maintained.

As a professional I hope this disaster leads to a greater trust in experts of all types. The value of expertise and knowledge has become increasingly important despite recent contrary trends.

Accepting cultural change is required to address key issues. Many aspects of the COVID-19 response are similar to the types of changes we need as part of a comprehensive response for many issues. This ‘great work from home experiment’ has not required any new technology or tools, so much as simply cultural change and the desire to act on it.

I’m encouraged and excited for what can be made of this time. I am also very proud of our membership and the support shown for each other during this difficult time. The team at the Institute have been working hard and the input and involvement of members where requested has been wonderful.

To me, this talks of the strong levels of connection within our Chapter.

In life, the most important thing is the love we have for our families. No matter what happens over the next few months, the pandemic will pass, and the theatre of life will re-establish itself; the profession will still be here, our communities will still be here, and our friends and colleagues will also be here.

And so, our love for what we do and our care for our communities, and compassion for each other will be the most important tools we can have in moving forward and reestablishing practice.

Thanks to everyone and please keep supporting each other!

Shamus Mulcahy

Tasmanian Chapter President
Australian Institute of Architects