In between chipping in to help with refining two new bills designed to reform the NSW construction sector in ways that NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler says show strong “intellectual leadership”, Kathlyn Loseby is now shepherding architects out from what many say is their typically rarified peer groups into the potential glare of public judgement.

Loseby doesn’t take credit for it but we think this well-regarded architect who heads up the NSW Institute of Architects as chapter president has had a little something to do with it.

The state chapter of the institute has included, for the first time, a “people’s choice” category in its annual awards. The awards are now open and will close on 18 June.

The NSW People’s Choice Awards are for the “Life in 2020” program, designed to be “an opportunity for the public and peers to have their say about the places they would like to live in, work in and visit in these unusual times”.

With categories such as Isolation Oasis – Your dream quarantine digs; We Are In This Together – Pick your preferred essential workplace, Post-iso Party – Your favourite post-lockdown celebration venue, there’s definitely a light-hearted and potentially one-off side to this.

Still, Loseby said, it’s a good move. “The introduction of the people’s choice awards is a response to the challenges we face in 2020. As such, we would like everyone to be thinking more about architecture and the places that surround us following a period of lockdown restrictions. I encourage everyone to vote for their favourite projects.”

“It will be great to see what the public thinks,” she said on Thursday.

“Some people think architects only do fancy houses, and that they don’t necessarily understand what people want.

“That’s really unfortunate because this goes to the core of our hearts. Our role is to make sure we increase the liveability of the built environment, whether it’s buildings or streets, or the urban realm, inside or outside.

“A fundamental role of architects is to protect the public.”

But this move is not hers alone. Executive leaders in the institute have been “pushing for this for quite a while”.

“I think it will be really good and really interesting.”

Voting for the awards is here.

And for the first time, the public will even be able to watch the awards presentation, which are usually reserved for members only, through a live streaming event.

Meanwhile, how are architects handling Covid?

“We’re handling it very well,” said Loseby, who is also chief operations officer for Crone Architects. “Everyone very quickly adapted to working from home.”

Much of the work can be done remotely; even site visits have been handled through Zoom.

But there’s discrepancies in how the profession has fared. Some practices have grown in recent months, putting on more staff, especially those working on infrastructure projects such as metro stations or on education and health projects.

Others are working harder to make up for lost income with more marketing, business development and explorative work.

State and federal governments a big disappointment

Loseby and her national counterpart Helen Lochhead have both been working strongly on advocacy with the state and federal government to try to direct stimulus programs towards positive sustainability outcomes.

“We’re disappointed that neither the state nor federal governments have taken on environment and sustainability proposals as part of the stimulus. This is so important,” Loseby said.

“I’m very concerned. There was quite a lot of momentum after the bushfires but that now seems to have taken a backwards stance.”

Loseby has also been working hard on the two bills initiated by NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler’s tilt at reforming shoddy practices in the construction sector –  apartment buildings in particular.

She’s happy with the outcomes and full of praise for Chandler.

“This is brilliant,” she says,  referring to the checks and balances designed to ensure that plans align with the built form that is delivered and with the proposed audits of occupancy certificates, including “unique powers” the commissioner has to “go to building sites and demand to see documents” to ensure standards are upheld.

“This is the stick the industry needs.”

Chandler has “done an amazing job”, she says, especially at getting the disparate organisations together to be proactive.

“It’s been a fantastic example of collaboration and positive outcomes for a positive quality outcome.”

But, she warned, there’s lots of complexity around it and the devil is in the detail. The detail will be the regulations that will be developed from now until the Design and Building Practitioners Bill 2019 becomes law on 1 July 2021.

More on this to come.

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