In the months leading up to the 2015 National Conference, the Creative Directors have undertaken a parallel process of interviewing a number of architects on the subject of RISK in practice. Many of these video commentaries will be from speakers who will not be speaking at the conference itself. These short conversations have been edited into a series of critical and provocative reflections, each approximately 5 minutes in duration, on a range of themes, issues and concerns that connect to the conference theme. They become further background for this important discussion.


Amanda Levete, AL_A

As seen at the Risk Conference on Saturday 16 May 2015


Marc Angelil, Professor of Design and Architecture at ETH Zurich.


David Gianotten, OMA


Caroline Bos, UN Studio

Rahul Mehrotra
Jeanne Gang

Andrew Mackenzie

Conference Creative Director

It is a subject that runs deep within architecture’s DNA. As Anthony Burke and Andrew Benjamin establish, risk is not an external factor to be “managed out.” Rather, it is a vital constitutive element within innovation and is, Benjamin says, “inextricably bound up with experimentation.” Thus it is understood that risk minimization can also mean the minimization of innovation and experimentation: clearly the very antithesis of a positive force in either architecture or, more broadly, the built environment.


In this there is a correspondence with many other aspects of contemporary life, where the denial of risk serves also, intentionally or not, to entrench that which is known and established – ergo the status quo. Meanwhile, ironically, we live in an age of accelerated change, in which Alisa Andrasek observes “… we actually have an enormous opportunity for an expanded field of engagement with the world.” In an effort to embrace this expanded field, Caroline Bos states: “those of us who embrace this uncertainty, who reject the safe haven of a consensual, long-ago utopia, must address the complex nature of the real.”


Indeed, architectural practice today urgently needs to address the reality of changing times: evolving building technologies and expanding regulation, unstable climates and resource conservation. In addition, the transformation in recent years of design procurement processes and the nature of the architect–client relationship is yet to be fully absorbed by the profession. Here perhaps more than anywhere the issue of risk is most vexed, linked to the rise of managerial techniques that lead to what Marc Angélil describes as a “banality of architecture.”


Australian architect Suzannah Waldron reflects on establishing a new practice at a time when the culture of both public and private sector procurement mistakenly conflates “proven track record” with risk-free. This serves to concentrate opportunity in the hands of a few at the expense of the many small- to medium-sized practices – that is, well over 95 percent of current Australian practices. From the perspective of the UK, Deborah Saunt calls this trend the “Tesco-fication” of the profession, which in turn risks the loss of design diversity. “By nature, projects involve risk,” she says, “but to use scale as a pre-determinant reduces diversity and fails to foster potential talent.”


Yet talent can still be fostered, as will be illustrated by a number of Australian architects who will each present a single project in a series of short, intense reviews on both days of the conference. As a precursor, Kristin Green reflects in her own candid words on the design of a “dream project” on a Pacific island – a design process far from the constraints of regulations and over-management, yet here too risk took on an immediate and physical dimension.


Writing on the broader issue of architect–client relations, David Gianotten unequivocally cites collaborative client relationships and the development of mutual trust between both as perhaps the best means to embrace and share risk. Through the lens of social engagement and community collaboration, this point is reiterated by Rahul Mehrotra, who states: “The moment you nuance your understanding of risk … in relation to value judgements [and] collective endeavour … then [risk begins to have] positive possibilities.” For Jeanne Gang, such trust and shared responsibility is again located at the fulcrum of the creative endeavour, engendered through the explication of a disciplined and thorough methodology.


Taken together, the essays that follow do not shy away from alarming trends or dangerous precedents; nor, however, do they underestimate the achievements and success of those who engage with risk positively and intelligently. It is intended that these texts, much like the conference, will serve to sketch the changing face of risk in architecture today. They are neither the start of the discussion, nor a summation, but I hope they will contribute positively to what is an urgently needed and broadly defined discussion.

Published in Architecture Australia, the country’s most widely read and highly respected architectural magazine –



Hamish Lyon

Conference Creative Director


Contemporary architectural discourse is in a rare moment of inversion. Traditionally led from within the confines of universities or by the trajectory of propositional research projects, current debate is now being driven by the complex and ever more fluid relationship between architectural practice and a project’s formation. Even the conventional linearity of project procurement has undergone a radical shift whereby design, documentation and construction can now occur in alternating sequences or even in reverse. This allows ideas to be generated simultaneously at different junctions of a problem: design can therefore just as easily occur within the pragmatics of a construction program as in the theoretical realm of applied research.


What this reconfiguration generates as a by-product is a greater complexity about where the project risk actually lies. As a result, developers, financiers, institutional clients and foreign investors stabilize this process by overlaying projects with the brutal cloak of risk minimization and contracts, which usually positions the architect as the final recipient of any potential shortcomings. This collapse of established practice protocols would seem unimaginable to the previous generation of postwar commercial practices such as Stephenson and Turner or Bates Smart, who offered professional design management services within the strict limits of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects’ fee scale or the agreed gentlemen’s code of conduct. So what happened?


A global boom and the commodification of architecture are what happened. There was the lure of money, projects and stardom. Everyone was too busy creating paradise in the Gulf States or entire cities in western China to worry about what was happening at the point of a project’s origin. Risk could be absolved by success. It is only through the slowly sharpening lens of the economic drop of recent years that the effects can start to be measured. There is also a political dimension as the amalgam of government legislation and market economics reconfigures the politics of public and commercial architecture into a Faustian relationship. Major infrastructure projects require market capital to fund their core programs but are caught between the egalitarian needs of the public good and the commercial demands of private interests.


Public transport, roads, hospitals and schools – the usual typologies that reappear with the electoral cycle – are often clouded in ambiguous or open rhetoric regarding their funding, ownership or governance. Even the maturing discussion surrounding the role of the public–private partnership (PPP) model as the most visible example still manages to get lost behind an easy game of blame-the-financier for policy decisions that fundamentally rest within a democratic political debate.


The desalination plant in Victoria that has yet to supply any water or the more recent public debate over the virtues and ethics of Melbourne’s East West Link are two examples of urban infrastructure that carried massive risk. Where are the architects and urbanists in this debate? At a contractual level they are usually stifled by confidentiality clauses or commercial in-confidence agreements, while at a policy and public debate level there seems a paucity of discussion on developing an alternate model in which risk is defined as a design problem, not an unsolvable burden.


So where’s the good news? It rests partly with the new generation of architects, which has developed a more sophisticated awareness of architectural practice. We are already witnessing Master of Architecture students select professional practice as a new theory subject. Meanwhile the risk-auditor of an architectural practice – usually the domain of the less creative – has become a new force in the contemporary project. For some, this will be seen as a loss of the architect as torchbearer and visionary, but for others it is a realization that contemporary ideas and influence are found at the convergence of procurement, politics and economics.

Published in Architecture Australia, the country’s most widely read and highly respected architectural magazine –

Donald Bates Conference Creative Director

What does it take to build in a guarantee for a major project? What structure (of commissioning), what form (of delivery), what materials (of contract and project management) are required to convince all and sundry that a project – whether house, library, school, office building, public plaza, arts centre, stadium or new city – will emerge as a guaranteed success, a certainty?

For something to be considered a success, we would need some consensus on both the nature and conditions of success and an agreement on how we might define the success:

  • Keeping to budget – but was the budget realistic in the first place?
  • Fulfilling the brief – did we get what we want, what we need, what we never knew we needed?
  • Satisfying everyone – as if such a thing was possible?
  • Meeting visitation estimates – who wrote those?
  • Garnering positive reviews – who reads those other than architects?
  • Winning multiple awards – by architects to architects for architects?
  • Changing the way a city operates – is that asking too much?

Life insurance, superannuation, critics’ choice, seal of approval, brand names – all of these act as guarantees in facets of our lives. We seek certainty and hope to reduce the risk of failure, the risk of disappointment, the risk of the unknown – to know at the beginning what will eventuate at the end. The sure thing, the safe bet, the dead cert. If I’m flying to Dubai in a new A380 for fourteen hours, yes, I would like to feel confident that I will get there alive and in reasonable comfort. If I purchase a new iPhone, I trust Apple to deliver not just what it promised in terms of features, but also something that will last at least until (and preferably beyond) the expiration of its guarantee and warranty. Experiences, objects, processes and laws – I have expectations and even legal rights about their reliability and their repeatability.


Is architecture different from these examples? In a complex world, operating under complex regulations with complex management structures, is it possible to guarantee an outcome? Or rather, is it possible to not guarantee an outcome when you have so much invested and involved in the control of a project – all focused on the minimization of risk and the maximization of certainty? Architecture is a product, as well as an experience, a process and a consequence of laws and regulations. But is architecture reliable and repeatable? Should it be? Is architecture still transformative when it repeats (as prescribed) an experience, a formal gesture and a material presence the same way time and time again? Such repeatability and deliverability of a “known known” would certainly provide a guarantee and eliminate most risks.


Rather than spending so much time, effort and resources on building the architecture of the guarantee, based as it is on “known knowns” (with due reference to Donald Rumsfeld), I would prefer that we spend more time on exploiting the guarantee of the transformative ability of architecture to confront and engage both the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns” of daily life – that complex chaos of interactions, engagement and social exchange at the very heart of architectural production.

Published in Architecture Australia, the country’s most widely read and highly respected architectural magazine –


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