By David Parken, chief executive officer, Australian Institute of Architects

31 August 2011 – There has been some recent speculation in industry circles about the future of the Australian Institute of Architects’ National Architecture Award for Sustainability, sparked by an article in The Fifth Estate.

The Institute would like to provide some background to clarify some of the questions raised and a clear statement about the current status of the award.

The sustainability category in the National Architecture Awards has been the subject of long- standing concerns.

There have been diverse views expressed by the Institute’s Awards Review Taskforce, the National Sustainability Committee and others, as to whether the award should stay or go, or whether it should be assessed in some other way.

In 2010, the Institute’s National Council established a working group SAWG to review the conduct of the Sustainability Award.

The working group comprised Paul Berkemeier (Paul Berkemeier Architects), Tristram Carfae (ARUP), Ross Clark (Institute Chief Operating Officer),  Melinda Dodson (Institute IPP), Peter Stutchbury (Peter Stutchbury Architecture) and Peter Scott (Xsquared Architects) and was chaired by Ken Maher (HASSELL).

Since the Sustainability Award was first introduced much has changed in the field of sustainable design. There is a much greater awareness in the community regarding environmental sustainability and the issue of climate change; however, there is still little understanding of the significance and value of design in addressing this challenge.

Despite the growing focus on sustainability for many projects submitted for awards, important issues remain, including:

  • The need to expand a preoccupation with metrics to the broader measures of long term value, including adaptability, endurance and the significance of beauty.
  • The need to ensure an understanding of sustainability more holistically, including environmental, economic, social and cultural dimensions.
  • The need to recognise the importance of integrated design thinking, not only at the individual building scale, but at the locality (or neighbourhood) and urban scale.

Australian architects have in many cases been international leaders in the field of designing responsive, responsible and delightful works of architecture that do “more with less”’.

An opportunity exists to support, encourage and celebrate the continuation of this significant achievement.

To this end, SAWG met at the Institute’s Sydney premises, Tusculum, on 3 December 2010 to discuss and recommend on the future of the Sustainable Architecture category in the National Architecture Awards program.

As Peter Scott was unavailable to attend, Tone Wheeler (Environa Studio and NSC) attended on his behalf.

The participants in SAWG were keen to ensure a shift from a preoccupation with technical performance – ‘green bling’ – to one emphasising the value of creative and intelligent thinking to deliver enduring and meaningful environments through design.

The group discussed a wide range of options but ultimately came to the unanimous recommendation that the Sustainable Architecture Award should be retained within the National Awards Program, but that it should be redefined as follows:

The Sustainable Architecture award be elevated to a Named Award at a National, Chapter and, where relevant, regional level.

The award be discontinued as a separate entry category, and be selected by the jury from all awards entries (this may need to be by the chairs of juries for those Chapters with multiple juries).

The award criteria should be open ended and recognise exemplary contribution to sustainable architecture through design.

A preamble should be provided to guide entrants and the jury outlining the intent of the award.

David Parken

All award entries in all categories should be required to include a brief description of the value the project has generated in each of the environmental, social and economic domains.

While no detailed performance data would be required the jury could call for additional information from entrants, if required.

Consideration should be given to changing the composition of juries to ensure one member has detailed

understanding of or experience with sustainable design.

The National Executive met in February 2011 and unanimously resolved to support the SAWG recommendation for adoption by National Council.

Appropriate amendment of the awards, prizes and honours policy is currently being undertaken, to reflect the approach recommended by the Sustainability Award Working Group.

This proposed policy amendment will be considered by National Council at its meeting prior to commencement of the 2012 National Architecture Awards program.