Paul Berkemeier

By Cameron Jewell

13 May 2013 — The Australian Institute of Architects has slammed the NSW Government’s decision to redevelop Darling Harbour through a single contract to Lend Lease.

National President Elect Paul Berkemeier said the government had betrayed the public interest.

“The government has contracted out its responsibility to prepare a master plan for the use of public land, as well as the rights to demolish and develop it,” he said.

“The Institute’s view is that city development is better served by a multiplicity of players in the development industry, not just one.”

Mr Berkemeier said he did not have an issue with Lend Lease or the architects they were using – describing both as excellent – rather the position they had been put in.

“What we question is the muddled brief to which they are responding and the outdated and wasteful demolish and rebuild strategy underlying the whole proposal,” he said. “We are opposed to the notion that you need to demolish 25-year-old buildings and replace them with new buildings on similar footprints to achieve these improvements.”

Mr Berkemeier told The Fifth Estate this mode of thinking was a challenge for sustainability in the industry, describing the most sustainable buildings as those with the longest lives. He said the embedded energy in materials used to construct buildings was a critical sustainability issue.

He acknowledged the importance of best practice while using the building but said long building life was a prerequisite for sustainability.

“Buildings aren’t throw-away things,” he said. “But if you’re a developer given a blank slate it’s easier to wipe the building offsite and start a new one.”

Demolishing buildings “by some of Australia’s most well-regarded architects” was also a major issue for the Institute.

“Last year the Institute’s NSW Chapter adopted a new policy: valuing award-winning buildings in the long term,” Mr Berkemeier said. “The policy aims at the long-term survival of these highly regarded buildings and encourages adaptations and additions that respect the integrity of their original designs.”

The Sydney Exhibition Centre, which is to be demolished, was awarded the Sulman Medal in 1989 by a jury chaired by the late Harry Seidler.

Mr Berkemeier, whose national presidency of the Australian Institute of Architects starts this month, said the issues of cities and urban development are fundamentally important for the future of his profession, and for what it can contribute to society.

He aims to put urban issues front and centre for the upcoming election. The Australian Institute of Architects is one of the members of the Urban Coalition, a group of built environment professionals calling for the federal government to start an urban infrastructure fund and a department of cities and urban development.