Jon Clements

The Australian Institute of Architects needs to reform itself in the face of increasing pressures on its members, including tighter budgets, rising costs and greater competition, according to its national president Jon Clements.

Mr Clements, who is partner at Jackson Clement Burrows, said these pressures were impacting projects, with the quality of the built environment being compromised due to lack of regulations enforcing compliance with sustainability, as clients often chose cost-cutting over quality.

He said architects were faced with an incredibly competitive market where costs were increasing, particularly the cost of technology. Projects are also becoming more complex and client expectations increasing, but the timeframes for project delivery are becoming tighter.

The growing footprint of offshore investors was also having an impact, as the development sector responded to rising land prices by cutting project budgets, particularly around the aspect of common services, Mr Clements said.

He said the AIA was addressing these pressures on a number of fronts.

It is in the process of developing a new governance model and strategic plan, and is also increasing its advocacy role around the importance of good architecture in ensuring quality buildings and cities.

The trend among some developers of not using an architect for projects – instead employing a draughtsman to draw up in-house produced designs – often led to outcomes that did not reflect sound urban planning, he said.

The best examples of urban planning worldwide reflected broad industry expertise, and sound industry and community engagement, he said.

Some of the less great examples can be seen in Melbourne, where Mr Clements said the biggest issue with areas including Docklands and Southbank had been past influence of the state minister for planning over and above Melbourne City Council.

He said that in terms of the CBD, “one has to question the short-sightedness of the way developments fail to deliver the basic social activation and amenities for people who live within high rise apartments.

“This will compromise our cities. Architects need to stand with councils and support them [in ensuring better outcomes].”

He said the quality of life in the inner-city was compromised by short-term economic gain being prioritised at the expense of social and cultural amenity.

“The crux of the problem is these large buildings with around 1000 apartments have a population of around 2000 to 3000 people, but there is no real community amenity being provided within the project. It might have a token gym.

“It is really important to create spaces where people can interact and socialise.”

He said that Southbank was an example of too many tall buildings in close proximity where there had been little regard for context, developing character or how buildings related to the street.

Issues created included lack of daylight, lack of privacy and lack of community space.

The place was quite car dependent, he said, with a relatively low level of pedestrian movement.

“Various opportunities are lost with a number of high rise buildings in close proximity.”

Reforming the AIA

As part of the reform of the AIA, there will be a push for more continuing education for members of the profession across all state chapters. The Institute currently has around 12,000 members nationwide.

Mr Clements said it was about “really lifting the momentum” in conjunction with the states and territories amending their planning schemes and setting minimum standards for state-based design guidelines, such as the proposed minimum standards for multi-residential apartments in Victoria.

“Architects face a lot of change, and the AIA needs to adapt to change too. Over the next 12 months we will be developing a new organisational model.”

He said the AIA was also “under pressure” to develop a wide range of programs for its members.

It is also in the process of developing a sustainability policy.

“That’s a work in progress,” Mr Clements said.

He said architects were just “one point” in the sustainability equation – and not at the end where there was the most power over outcomes.

Sustainability needs to be a matter of compliance, not the wish-list

“Legislation is the real pointy end, it is the strongest guard for sustainability,” Mr Clements said.

“Architects and industry partners need to be involved at the front end of developing [sustainable buildings], but if you don’t get legislation to enforce sustainability you won’t get commitment, especially if [clients] see it as a cost-saving exercise.

“Sustainability is too often a shopping list item. Because there is no requirement for compliance [it] means a lot of clients will take that out.”

He does, however, think there are some developers who are committed to sustainability, and that for these clients, green building is part of their marketing collateral.

“It is good some lead, but it is not always the case. Unless sustainability is provided with an elevated market position there are some [that] will take it out [of designs],” he said.

“The ultimate way to achieve sustainability is to legislate it or introduce compliance measures.”

BIM not the silver bullet

While some sectors of the industry have argued that building information modelling technology could deliver sustainability gains through reduced waste and better project team integration, Mr Clements said it is not without its limitations.

The computer hardware requirement within architecture practices is substantially increased compared to the use of two dimensional CAD, which leads to a substantial increase in IT costs. There are also only a limited number of software packages in the BIM space, and these are very expensive, and there is also a significant cost in terms of training and transition.

Mr Clements also said there was a complexity in transitioning to BIM where some members of a project team do not yet use the technology, or might be using a different version that is incompatible.

“It can limit who you can work with,” Mr Clements said.

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  1. Here is an immediate opportunity for you to have an impact on legislated sustainability. Please contact your AIA National Office to encourage them to coordinate a submission ASAP regarding the changes to Section J and Part 3.12 (for houses) proposed for BCA 2016, 2017 and 2018. The major problem is that the proposed changes will potentially erode the existing energy efficiency measures for the building envelope – your members’ domain. Plus they will be locked in for three years before they can be changed again. Last day for submission is Monday 3rd August.

  2. Having been in the sustainability area, particularly in the residential sector, for quite some time now I’m getting more and more convinced that legislation is the way to go forward. So I couldn’t agree more with Jon. We regulate things when it impacts the community at a broader level, such as privacy, noise, health and amenity, fire safety etc. We don’t have a demand based approach for these things to happen. Then does that not apply to sustainability, which impacts at a much broader level? Jon, I would be most happy to contribute in any capacity I can to assist AIA with this cause, in getting sustainability to be accepted as a minimum requirement.