In our 161st year the Victorian Chapter’s contribution to the built environment is undeniable, both in the creation of a strong local culture and demonstrating the benefits good design brings to society. As architects, we are prized for our design thinking and ability to offer multiple solutions, but there has never been a better time for the profession to speak with one voice. We need to form a stronger group, and to operate as a true profession. Competition is healthy, yet to recover lost ground the profession needs to rally collectively.
There are many ways to define a profession, but at the core of any profession is trust, expertise, and a collective voice. While architects need to operate profitable businesses, our fundamental responsibilities are to the community and the built environment. Whenever we speak primarily to these points publically, trust in the profession increases.
Architects haven’t responded to ‘deprofessionalisation’ as well as some other professions. De-professionalisation is a contemporary condition and architects are by no means alone in losing ground to those less qualified with louder voices. Education and training is not universally respected. However, unlike the U.S.-based ‘March for Science’ initiated by climate change researchers in April, there was no marching in the streets in Victoria when architects weren’t mandated in the Better Apartment Design Standards. As a profession, we missed a major opportunity for the validation of our expertise, and the public lost a much-needed layer of consumer protection that the Architects Act would provide – because we didn’t speak with one voice.
Our significant expertise is urgently needed in the middle suburbs, where infill medium-density housing is beginning to emerge. Tragically many projects are likely to fail, both in design and construction quality because architects aren’t involved. Already, several shires are reporting on many apartment buildings over four storeys progressing without the involvement of an architect.
If Victoria wants to call itself a ‘State of Design’, it cannot remain out of step with most of the Western World and leave architects out of regulation on significant buildings – and dis-empowered with compromised contracts. We must all reinforce this message and emphasise the importance of the profession’s expertise wherever we can. The symbolism is important.
Secondly, we must reinforce a timely public safety message and get behind the call for appropriate education and Registration of any practitioner acting as Superintendent under a building contract. There is little protection for clients when practitioners fall outside the control of recognised industry regulatory bodies. The Australian Institute of Architects fully supports all of the recommendations put forward by the Senate Economics Reference Committee inquiry into non-conforming building products. We support the Committee’s call for further urgent action to address the danger to our community posed by the de-professionalisation of building procurement over recent years. As our cities become increasingly dense, and our buildings more complex, it is essential that those within the industry become more – not less – skilled and qualified and their work subject to appropriately stringent checks and certification. Ensuring public safety in the built environment is the chief priority of the architectural profession.
We all have an opportunity through the AIA to increase our engagement by giving the message that we are here to help. Even though we celebrate the diversity of design ideas, we must speak with one united professional voice and know that what we do makes a difference to the city and to everyday lives.
The Institute is – and must be – the voice of architecture. Better recognition of our importance comes from speaking together.
Vanessa Bird FRAIA
Vic Chapter President