Architect Tim Horton has been appointed as a commissioner of the NSW Land and Environment Court at a time when it looks like the court wants to deepen its understanding of design and the public realm and when the architecture profession itself seems to be undergoing renewal.
Horton starts the new role on 5 November and comes from four and half years as registrar of the NSW Architects Board.
He will be one of several commissioners appointed by the court to advise judges in particular areas of expertise such as planning and architecture.
Horton has a strong track record as a leader in the architectural profession and design initiatives. He’s been chapter president of the Australian Institute of Architects in South Australia, board member for the CRC for Low Carbon Living, Commissioner for Integrated Design and host of television the nine part series Australia by Design.
“After 20 years of promoting architecture I relish the chance to assist the court in defining good design and public amenity,” he told The Fifth Estate on Tuesday afternoon.
He said he was optimistic the court was interested to expand its understanding of the impact of design and development.
A clear indication was the interest from Chief Judge Brian Preston SC in the Land and Environment Court taking part in next year’s Sydney Architecture Festival, which Horton through his role as registrar of the ARB has had a leading role in organising.
It’s a move by the court, he says, to “expand their understanding of what good design is and what good planning looks like.”
“It was a particular thrill to get the call,” Horton said.
The NSW court he said, was first in the world of its type when it was established in 1980.
“When you look at the difference in Victoria where many of these decisions are taken by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, I think Sydney has done extraordinarily well to elevate this to court level, in a city and state that’s run on land and property.”
If the court is looking for new insights, so is the profession, it seems – if the recent flurry of articles questioning the role of architects – in The Fifth Estate alone – but also in comments on social media and the architecture festival are any guide.
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There’s also a changing of the guard, from the departure of Jennifer Cunich as chief executive of the Australian Institute of Architects, the departure of NSW Government Architect Peter Poulet, AIA NSW executive director Joshua Morrin advertising his position, to a new dean expected to be announced soon at the University of Sydney replacing John Redmond, and a new dean at UTS Francesca Hughes announced in March.
Horton said there was a big thirst in the industry for a revaluation of ethics and roles of the profession. A good indication was the sold out session at the Architecture Festival on the topic of ethics in an age of excess.
“It was the best attended,” Horton said, and canvassed the question: “if after 24 years of unbroken economic growth have we been happy to ride the wave of affluence and become in the process our clients’ client and not the carrier of the public interest?”
Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre and others on the panel delved into the topic and “not just in the abstract sense”, Horton said.
Architects needed to better understand the governing standards that give the profession its shape, which should include the issues of continuing to advocate on behalf of the city.
But how well are architects equipped for city building?
Well, Horton said – through their significant training in the history of cities and aspects of landscape and planning.
“But the architecture practice has decided over the last 40 years to narrow its gaze and limit its risk.”
Partly this has been the undue result of insurers who said “we should stick to our knitting and not move outside the narrow definition of practice.”
Horton has expectations this will change through a renewal of “slow thinking” and the practice committee networks that the institute is working on.
That’s the infrastructure that will make the difference between social trust and becoming a “winging minority” he said.