Foreword RAIA president
I look forward to my term as President of the RAIA for 2001-2002 which commenced on 1 May. The outgoing President, Ed Haysom, gave much time and attention to ESD, politics and the construction industry — issues affecting the profession greatly at this time. He presided over the delegation of policy development powers and financial incentives to RAIA chapters. His work was invaluable and he will continue to contribute his time and expertise in his role as Immediate Past President.
The Australian people are seeking leadership in the fields of architecture and urban design and it is clear that architects need to develop a greater public presence, to communicate clearly with the public and become appreciated by a wider public, regardless of how radical or sensitive a proposition might be.
In the last half century the design of our cities has moved from the political to the economic arena and there are now calls for architecture to re-enter the political world. Recently architecture has become intimately related to development exploitation and inequity by an increasingly democratic society.
Speculation and inappropriate subdivision has had an increasingly destructive effect on cities. State governments must carry a heavy burden of responsibility in this — industrial and defence land, the ports and docklands are disposed through tender processes weighted toward price rather than urban design outcomes.
The resultant scale of many price-driven redevelopments is often too big to avoid the banal repetition of blocks and the loss of detail. Designers are guilty of repeating the same resolved idea across an entire site, so that the character of a development defines its artificial subdivision. Just as with private speculation, the temptation is to overdevelop or overuse an idea and to avoid the question of maximum subdivision scales and their titling effects (such as strata title on sensitive sites). These projects tend to ignore the need for intricate or formal urban space or parks, and to not communicate a three-dimensional vision to a broad cross section of the public. Well before the project is sold its limitations are significant and wanting. When it is finally time for the public comment, planning instruments drafted in legal language are often found to be impenetrable.
On the other hand, architects who decline commissions on the basis of inadequate budgets for quality design, or because of the selfish character of the development, make silent sacrifices that go unnoticed and undocumented. Those who advise against exceeding planning controls are often overlooked in favour of someone else who is prepared to try. Then if the council does agree to a massive departure from a master plan how can you blame the architect?
This year the recognition of the architect will be considered by the inter-government working group, chaired by Mr Ted Smithies. I urge RAIA members, the public and specifically the ministers in all state governments to spend some time considering the way Australian cities and country towns are to be developed. I urge you all to support the creation of an urban design armature as the central plank of all planning instruments, and to guard against the conservative backlash bound up in future character studies.
Graham Jahn FRAIA
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