Seeing the light: Victoria’s draft apartment standards released

After many months of speculation, the Victorian Government has finally released a draft of the minimum apartment standards. The standards are a compromise but none the less a welcome step in the right direction.

The award winning Quays Towers by MCR

The award winning Quays Towers by MCR

The big headline from Sunday’s announcement, covered here in The Age, is that there will be no minimum apartment sizes, however minimum balcony sizes and accessibility requirements on bedrooms and bathrooms will assist with safeguarding functionality.

Habitable rooms, such as bedrooms, living rooms and studies, must have a window visible from all points within the room. This is the end of bedrooms without windows and saddlebag floor plan layouts.

“Buildings that rely on borrowed light, buildings that have poor ventilation, buildings where you can barely put a double bed into the bedroom: this is not the quality of apartments that we should have.”

Planning Minister, Richard Wynne

The standards will offer a degree of flexibility. In the instance where a particular standard cannot be met, alternative design solutions that meet the overall objective can be considered by council. This will likely placate concerns that the standards could jeopardise design innovation.

Reports of the death of South facing apartments have been greatly exaggerated. 

Towers above 25 metres in height will need building separation of at least 24 metres. This will no doubt be a positive for areas such as the CBD, Docklands, Fishermans Bend and Box Hill, as it will help to protect the cumulative effect that towers can have on the street. It will also help with visual privacy between apartments.

By popular demand, storage space has been increased. The draft standards propose a minimum 8 cubic metre storage space is required for a two bedroom apartment and 10 cubic metres for an apartment with three or more bedrooms.

 RMB storage space data
64.7% of Victorian respondents believe their apartment storage space is insufficient for their needs

Minimum ceiling heights have not been specified, but instead will be linked to the allowable depth of the apartment. There are effectively two categories for this requirement, single aspect apartments that face south and all other apartments. For the purely south facing apartments, a maximum ratio of 2:1 , dwelling depth to ceiling height will be required for habitable rooms.

For all other apartments the depth of habitable rooms is capped at a ratio of 2.5 : 1. For these apartments the ratio can be extended if an open plan living area (kitchen, living, dining) configuration is adopted. In these situations, provided 2.7 metre high ceilings are provided the living area can extend 8 metres from the facade.

apartment depth diagrams

Diagrams from the Draft Apartment Standards (Page 20)

Considering this room depth standard, it would be reasonable to predict that 2.7 metre ceiling heights are bound to become very popular in new apartments, despite not being technically mandatory.

As previously reported here, evidence gathered from RateMyBuilding.com.au suggests that apartment dwellers, just like those living in detached homes, want to be able to entertain guests in their home. With this in mind it is a pleasing to note that a requirement for communal space has been included for apartment buildings with more than 20 dwellings. In practice this could be either indoor or outdoor space as demonstrated by exemplar apartment projects such as The Quays by MCR, Upper House by Jackson Clements Burrows and The Commons by Breathe Architecture. Further enabling social interactions within the home, minimum balcony sizes have been increased. The new minimum area requirements for theses spaces now also specifically exclude any air-conditioning equipment.

outdoor space data copy

Finally, whilst it might seem like window dressing at first glance, the draft standards include requirements for deep soil planting and vegetation. Providing opportunities for trees and other vegetation is critical to reduce the impacts of the ‘urban heat island effect’. Studies have shown that this effect is already killing people and that with global warming it is only going to get worse. It is therefore very welcoming to see that requirements for deep soil planting and other vegetation have been included.

In addition to providing the draft standards, the State Government has also provided some guidance on how the implementation of the standards will occur. There will not be an overnight change, but rather a three month grace period from the time at which the final standards are adopted. In addition to this, a compliance checkpoint has been flagged prior to a building permit being issued.

“To maintain design quality in apartment developments after the planning stage, it is proposed to introduce a checkpoint at the building permit stage where a registered architect or a registered building designer (who has completed the advanced training course) can verify that all relevant apartment design matters have been met.”          

Draft Apartment Standards, Page 9

In contrast with New South Wales apartment rules, SEPP 65, the Victorian Standards are comparatively mild. Logic would suggest that potential apartment sites will lose a small percentage of their value as developers adjust their expectations. This in my view is likely to offset the majority of additional construction costs. It seems incredibly unlikely that we would see an excessive increase in apartment prices as a result of these standards. Nevertheless we have an existing affordability issue that both State and Federal Governments should be addressing. There are multiple policy settings that could adjusted, from taxation, investment regulation and strategic planning, all of which should be a high priority.

For the naysayers who are absolutely convinced that we cannot afford these standards, we need to properly consider the cost of doing nothing.

  • Discrimination and exclusion of people with reduced mobility from living in standard quality apartments
  • Increased deaths from urban heat island effect.
  • Increased impact on global warming through lower efficiency buildings.
  • Probable increase in poor mental health resulting from oppressive dwellings with poor day-lighting and ventilation.
  • Apartments that do not meet community expectations of live-ability will continue to drive suburban sprawl as more people look to options other than apartments.

If we are serious about equity, city resilience and the well being of people living in apartments in the future, these standards represent Victoria’s best chance at change. Relying entirely upon the free market is not an option.

Feedback on the draft standards can be provided until September 19 via the DELWP website here

Architecture is for everyone

 

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Melbourne Open House 2016

Now in it’s ninth year, Melbourne Open House once again pushes the discovery  and appreciation of architecture and the built environment into the mainstream. 

Medibank offices in Docklands by Hassell

Medibank offices in Docklands by Hassell

With well over 100 different buildings to experience across the weekend, those wishing to indulge their curiosity were spoilt for choice. From the historic to the contemporary, from very public buildings to very special private residences, the program delivered in spades. As always it is impossible to see everything, but with Open House a solid fixture in Melbourne’s busy events schedule, it is possible to build up a collection of experiences year on year.

Take a look back at previous Melbourne Open House weekends
2012 2013 2014 2015

Medibank Offices

How can a large corporate organisation provide a healthy 21st century work environment for its staff? This was the challenge that faced the architects Hassell when conceiving the new offices in Docklands for Medibank. This fluid form tower represents some of the latest thinking on office environments. Boasting an outdoor sports court, edible garden, flexible work spaces and even an indoor fireplace, the building is a generous investment in the people who occupy the building.

From a visitor’s perspective the wow factor is all in the atrium. Crisp white ribbons provide a rich layering effect which is emphasized further through brightly coloured floor and ceiling surfaces. The result is a vibrant, energetic building, which must surely be a delight to work within.

The Argus Building

The Argus newspaper was a highly innovative and respected newspaper that was published between 1846 and 1957. The building on the corner of Elizabeth and Latrobe Streets in Melbourne was built as the headquarters for all aspects of the publication between 1924 and 1926. The newspaper was abruptly discontinued in 1957 and at some point after that fell into disrepair. In 2014 the building was reopened as an education facility for the Melbourne Institute of Technology. Since that time it has been a particularly popular attraction on Melbourne Open House weekend for curious visitors.

The interior fit out and alterations were undertaken by Design inc. Whilst there is some of the remaining original fabric exposed, it is unfortunate to report that within the vast majority of the interior, the old has been completely covered with the new. This raises interesting questions about the preservation of our built heritage. On the one hand the ability for an otherwise derelict building to be given a new use will ensure its survival into the future. On the other hand, to cover up the internal building fabric with white plasterboard and commercial flooring seems like an opportunity lost. No doubt the design team and client had their reasons. The building was in a perilously poor state and there are always limitations on what a client can spend to realize a project.

The Supreme Court of Victoria

Perhaps one of the most surprising  and interesting experiences available, was the visit to the Supreme Court of Victoria.  The Supreme Court is actually a collection of buildings originally designed by A.L. Smith and built between 1857-1884. The classical stone facade that graces the street conceals a large courtyard within. This external space is the setting for the glorious Supreme Court Library, the dome of which can be seen from the streets beyond. From within, the library feels like a relative of the much loved State Library of Victoria although it is actually older than the Joseph Reed building. Despite the grandeur of the detailing and decoration, the space itself is surprisingly intimate. As well as the architecture the library holds a fascinating collection of books and historical documents. In a glass case, an Argus newspaper from exactly 100 years earlier is on display, reporting losses from the ‘Great War’ and complaints about the Hoyts theater prices.

The other notable spaces within this complex are, of course, the courts themselves. These spaces are some of the most serious that you will experience in Victoria. Court 4, otherwise known as the Banco Court, is the oldest and most elaborate of the court rooms. The finely detailed ceiling is both extraordinary and unexpected. The fixed timber seating, which was carefully thought out well over 100 years prior, still operates in the way originally intended. There are only a few minor additions to the space, such as a couple of large monitors for the jury to observe video evidence.

Unfortunately photographs are not permitted to be taken within the court, so really you have to go an experience it for yourself.

With tens of thousands of visitors to buildings across the city, Melbourne Open House continues to prove that architecture is for everyone.

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Red+Black Review: The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre

Melbourne’s most important building to be completed in 2016 sits proudly at the top of Elizabeth Street as a beacon of hope to all Victorians fighting cancer. 

Beacon of Hope: The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre by McBride Charles Ryan in partnership with STHDI

One of the great success stories in the development of the city of Melbourne is the creation of the flourishing Parkville medical precinct in the early twenty first century. Just to the North of the CBD, with the University of Melbourne as an anchor point, a collection of world class research facilities have sprung up at an astonishing rate. Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute, the Peter Doherty Institute, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Melbourne Brain Centre are all now located within the precinct which also boasts the new Royal Children’s Hospital, the Royal Women’s Hospital and the Royal Melbourne Hospital. The crown jewel in this impressive collection is the new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) which stands proudly as the flagship and gateway to this precinct.

The genesis of this building was from a tender bidding process which was won by the Plenary Health consortium. Embedded within this consortium were STHDI, a joint venture between architects Silver Thomas Hanley and Design Inc, who provided design expertise in laboratory and clinical design. Architects McBride Charles Ryan (MCR) were brought into the consortium to provide their design expertise on the external form and the public areas within the building.

This bidding process set a clear vision for what the project was to be from the very start. A world class clinical treatment, research and education facility all in one building.

“The promise that you have made to the State has to be delivered”

Debbie Ryan, MCR

From the viewpoint of the architects, there can hardly be a more challenging project.  A massive site, a $1 billion budget, a huge number of stake holders from multiple organisations and multiple government bodies and the requirement to facilitate cutting edge technology. Yet despite these challenges, a brilliant piece of architecture has been produced.

The first thing you notice about this building, from whichever direction you approach, is the seductive organic expression which willfully sweeps across the facade. The crisp white lines that branch and spread across the glazed envelope intentionally reference the research collaboration and networking ambitions of the centre. Fittingly they also mimic the wiry winter branches of the elm trees surrounding the site.

VCCC 7Along the north edge of the building the facade expression takes on a more sculptural form to present an entry colonnade to Grattan Street. Utilizing finely finished and detailed concrete and fibre reinforced polymer, the building successfully integrates with the busy pedestrian thoroughfare of the street. Soaring above the observer are two bridge connections between the VCCC and the Royal Melbourne Hospital. These enable the two hospitals to share operating theaters, if the need arises, providing the benefit of additional resilience and efficiency to both hospitals.

Entering the main lobby, or ‘welcome hall’ as it is known, it is clear that the organic theme expressed externally has made it’s way to the interior. The bright and well-proportioned space is generous without overwhelming and disorientating the visitor. Despite being a largely white space, the design successfully navigates the danger of becoming visually sterile. Texture, pattern, and slight splashes of colour are all used with precision.

Moving deeper within the building, the grand central atrium reveals itself, providing an abundant source of natural light throughout the centre of the plan. Vaguely reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Guggenheim in New York, white ribbons dance around the void to spectacular effect. Directly below, where one might have expected a staircase or lobby, an open amphitheater space reminds the visitor of the educational role of the building.

VCCC LiftsHospitals and laboratories have to meet some of the most stringent design regulations of any building type. With the very specific requirements of Australian and international standards, it might have been expected to notice a convergence in design. Clearly the VCCC has avoided this anonymity. For MCR it was also of substantial importance that the building have a particularly Australian identity. The use of spotted gum timber as an orientating surface within the public spaces subtly makes this differentiation.

As with other major hospitals across the globe, a significant problem is attracting and retaining the best staff. Even though it has only just opened, the VCCC has already lured several world class Australian researchers back to Australia from prestigious international positions. From a research perspective, the building is also a symbol that our State and Federal Governments are taking cancer research seriously.

As well as being a success story for the MCR and STHDI design team, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre is also a parable for the State Government, on the importance of a strong Government Architect. In procurement models where architecture teams are embedded within an overall project consortium, there is every risk that design quality can be sacrificed for other objectives. The best protection for the public against these sub standard outcomes is for the State Government client to be provided expert advice. If the government will not accept a reduction in design quality, then the consortium will be forced to deliver on what was promised.

For researchers, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre is a solid commitment to Australian medical science, in the form of a world class facility. For students and young professionals this building is about supporting the future of cancer treatment. However perhaps most importantly, for patients and their families, this is a building that exudes optimism and hope in a way that only the best architecture can.

VCCC 2

Architecture is for Everyone

 

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Red+Black Interview with Michel Masson, CEO of Infrastructure Victoria, Part 2

Michel Masson is the CEO of Infrastructure Victoria, the government body charged with formulating a 30 year strategy for Victoria’s infrastructure. This is the second part of the two part Red+Black Architect interview.

If you missed Part 1 click here

Michel-MassonRed+Black Architect – While selecting the right piece of infrastructure to build at the right time is critical, it’s equally critical to the liveability of the state to ensure that the design quality of the proposed infrastructure is of a very high standard? How is Infrastructure Victoria addressing this complex issue of the design quality?

Michel Masson – Let’s be clear as to what Infrastructure Victoria stands for. We are responsible for the strategic planning only. We’re not touching on the procurement. We’re not touching on the delivery. Clearly, we’re not here to revisit designs and look at those when we identify projects. That’s at a later stage. Having said that, we do acknowledge the importance of design in getting the right outcome. We are very focused on being outcome oriented, rather than focused on an output.

With that in mind, we’ve looked at a couple of ideas that are about improving design standards.

We are looking at universal design principles to provide accessibility for people with mobility challenges, and how we can push that further.  We’ve looked also at active design as a way to promote more active lifestyles using infrastructure, such as putting cycling and pedestrian pathways into new developments.

We’re looking at design in relation to social housing.  We’re also looking at design around cyber security. Infrastructure will have more and more technology embedded into it so that needs to be taken into account.

R+BA – Have you been consulting with the Office of the Victorian Government Architect on how to achieve design quality in the process of delivering infrastructure?

MM – You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve had already exchanges with Victorian Government Architect Jill Garner in order to have exactly that discussion. We’ve highlighted a couple of areas where indeed our role and their involvement into the strategy could actually be reinforced to ensure design is considered.

R+BA – From the projects that made it into the options paper, are there any that you found particularly surprising either in perhaps because they initially sounded far-fetched but have since shown promise or perhaps a project that was assumed to be a very important part that actually is not particularly viable?

MM – It won’t come as a surprise that when you table 236 options in a very agnostic way, of course, some catch the attention of the public more than some others. Infrastructure Victoria is an evidence-based organisation. We are totally agnostic. We tabled those and we’re very interested to get the feedback from the public.

Of course, when the public cast their eyes on recycling water for drinking purposes, or the mobile police stations for instance, this is very good news for us because we certainly don’t want to shy away from controversial ideas.

Our process is not a popularity contest. We clearly want to engage with the community and say, “We’re here to plan for the next 30 years. Clearly the next 30 years won’t be anything like the past 30 years. Let’s think outside of the box.”

Business-as-usual won’t cut it when it comes to planning for the next 30 years when you’ve got so many new people coming and settling in Melbourne and you’ve got technology changing so rapidly. We need to think differently when it comes to water, when it comes to education, when it comes to transport. Of course, there are some far-fetched ideas but we’re talking about the future so let’s unleash our imaginations and also look at what worked in the rest of the world.

R+BA – How does Infrastructure Victoria assess projects that cross state borders, for example, the high-speed rail on the Eastern Seaboard?

MM – There is a close collaboration between Infrastructure Australia, Building Queensland, Infrastructure New South Wales, Infrastructure Victoria and Infrastructure Tasmania.

We meet on a regular basis in order to exchange information on who is working on what. We’re not here to reinvent the wheel in our silos, far from it. The more we collaborate, the more we share what we are working on, the better we cross-pollinate our ideas.

Of course, in the process of exchanging ideas and cross-pollinating, we discuss national projects like high-speed rail or inland rail in order to confirm our thinking and come up with a consistent approach.

R+BA – With the way technology is advancing rapidly, is the 30-year goal a realistic goal or will it be virtually obsolete within a decade? How do you deal with that rapidly changing technology?

MM – I think that the beauty of having a 30-year plan is that it’s sufficiently far off in order to be able to make some good assumptions as to how we see the future. Clearly we don’t have a crystal ball. Ten years ago, nobody knew that we would have these mobile phones in our pockets and how much it would revolutionise our lives.

Having said that just because we haven’t got a crystal ball doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t plan. This is the whole essence of planning.

It is important to keep in mind that we’re going to refresh our strategy every 3-5 years. This is not a one-off exercise and then we’ve got to live with it. If that were the case, you would be absolutely right, it would be a pointless exercise.

Two things to keep in mind: one, we’re very mindful that technological advances will make a big impact in how we build, how we operate and how we maintain infrastructure. That’s why we got technology at the forefront what we are looking at. We’ve secured the help of the former chief innovation officer from Google to help us think about the “known unknowns” but also the “unknown unknowns”.

We also need to be very clear in identifying what are the potential disruptors that we need to monitor the impact of. It’s very clear that we can already see the impact of big data and the internet on things. We can see how sensors are already revolutionising water use, for instance, or the energy sector.

I’ll finish off by saying that the last big elephant in the room that we are working on in terms of modernisation is driverless cars. Is this a blessing or is this a curse? What are the changes of the paradigm that we should be looking at in order to leverage upon this and all of the implications that this will have.

R+BA – Yes. It’s very hard to get your head around exactly how that will play out. It could go two ways, in terms of rapidly increasing the amount of cars on the roads because we’ve got all of these cars driving themselves and running errands for people or perhaps it could reduce the numbers of cars, particularly households currently with two cars.

MM – Even if you’ve got less cars overall, you will have more kilometres being driven. It comes back to that question of what is the outcome we want to achieve. Driverless cars also cast a light also on the concept of ownership. With driverless cars, if we stick to the concept of ownership of a car, it will bring different outcomes than if we look at the driverless cars in a new paradigm of non-ownership.

R+BA – Barcelona recently wired a lot of their streets to prepare themselves for an innovation of these driverless cars. Is that something that’s in the draft options report, the idea of WiFi on the street everywhere, facilitating that sort of future outcome?

MM – We certainly are in the process of identifying what are the technology changes that we need to facilitate in order to enable the driverless cars to flourish in the future.

What do we need to start looking at in order to ensure that Victoria is ready for what is to come. It’s not a question of if that’s going to come. It’s a question of how fast and how prepared we are. A lot has got to do with policies and regulations currently in place that need to be looked at in order to ensure that Victoria is ready for it.

R+BA – Absolutely. I can imagine the law would be one of the areas that would need to change, who’s responsible for accidents and so forth.

Are there any aspects of Infrastructure Victoria’s work that have been overlooked or under reported in the media … Is there a message that you would like to put out there that sometimes gets lost amongst the East West Link and other controversial topics?

MM – Well, one of the key characteristics of the 30-year strategy is to cover the whole state, meaning that regional Victoria is equally as important as metropolitan Melbourne. We are very eager to have regional Victorians express their views throughout the consultation so that we are sure that what we table to Parliament reflects their views and their contribution, not just what is best for Melbourne.

The other thing which has probably been overlooked is our guiding principle of land use planning being integrated with the infrastructure planning. We’re very keen to look at ways of bridging that gap. Of course, we are working in close collaboration with the Melbourne Planning Authority. The refreshed Plan Melbourne will be an input into our strategy together with the regional growth plans. Looking at the next 30 years, I think one of the most fundamental changes that we can bring is better integration between infrastructure and land use planning.

The last thing that I’ll say is that we are very ambitious in the final strategy we plan to table at year end, because strategy without execution is nothing. We’re very keen to not only provide a pipeline of strategic recommendations, but for the final strategy to be workable. It needs to be an input to the community, to business, to the local and state governments.

We’re very keen to identify in parallel to our strategic recommendations, what are the tactical next steps? What is the first actionable item that we should be starting to do in order to see a recommendation being implemented?

It may be as an example that we plan for significant capital expenditure, say for a road for instance in 10 or 15 years. Even though you won’t need to build it for 10 or 15 years, we would recommend to pass the relevant legislation in the first 18 months to preserve the corridors. That I think will reposition the true essence of planning into the state of Victoria.

R+BA – Thank you very much for your time

 

 

 

Architecture is for Everyone

 

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Red+Black Interview with Michel Masson, CEO of Infrastructure Victoria, Part 1

Ever since the East West Link fiasco there has been substantial talk about removing the politics from Victoria’s infrastructure planning. The perception has been that politicians choose infrastructure projects that best suit their political agenda, rather than the projects that meet the objectives of a broader plan for a city. One only needs to read the East West Link report from the Australian National Audit Office to see how politics can interfere with due process in infrastructure delivery.

Infrastructure Victoria is the body created by the Daniel Andrews led State Government to fix this problem. Recently the CEO of Infrastructure Victoria, Michel Masson, took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the complex task of preparing an evidence based infrastructure strategy for Victoria.

Michel-MassonRed+Black Architect – Currently Infrastructure Victoria is working through a process to develop a 30-year strategy. Where is this process currently at and when can we expect the draft strategy to be released?

Michel Masson – 2016 is clearly the year of the development of the 30-year strategy which will be tabled to parliament at year end. Where are we at? The method we took is one of common sense.

First, we decided to look at what are the problems that we’re trying to solve instead of looking at the solutions. There are so many engineering solutions out there looking desperately for a problem to solve in order to justify their existence and request for funding.

This first round of consultation – which focused on our discussion paper Laying the foundations  was where we asked the community what are the infrastructure challenges we should focus on.

We know all throughout the process we’re going to have to make some pretty tough decisions in terms of what we do and what we don’t. This is strategy 101. You decide what you’re going to do, and equally what you will not be doing.

We were very pleased with the level of engagement we received from the community during that round of consultation. We received a lot of very good feedback about the importance of putting regional Victoria front and centre in the strategy.

We also received feedback about the need to promote integration between the land use planning and the infrastructure planning, which we’ve now incorporated into our guiding principles.

We have just finished the second phase of the consultation surrounding the options paper. Once we defined the strategy framework and the problems we’re going to focus on, we looked at the options. We’ve tabled to the community over 200 ideas to address Victoria’s infrastructure needs. At this stage, the whole process is to get constructive feedback and criticism from the community on the options we’ve put forward and also source new ideas from stakeholders and from the community.

We are in the process of putting all of these pieces of the puzzle together which will form the draft strategy to be released later this year. That will form the basis for a final round of consultation, again asking  the community to review our draft recommendations and tell us:  “Do we agree that this is the pipeline that we’ll want in the short, medium, and long-term?”

Once we’ve incorporated that next round of consultation, then we’ll table the final strategy to parliament at the end of the year. Once that strategy is tabled to Parliament, the government has 12 months to respond with a five-year plan.

R+BA – Those projects in the draft, will it be prescriptive as to for example project X will start between 2018 and 2019 and project Y will follow that from 2020 onwards? Are there timeframes for those projects?

MM – First of all, we talk about options and not necessarily projects and the reason is that our approach is not just about building new pieces of infrastructure. It’s first and foremost about how do we look at demand management and most importantly how do we optimize the current assets? How do we make the most of what we currently have before we look at building new things? We’re very keen to look at policies and regulations which are currently in place and should be amended or new policies and regulations which would help make better use of the existing assets.

The draft strategy will be a series of recommendations, policies and regulations, and new pieces of infrastructure which will be positioned as short, medium, and long-term draft recommendations. We won’t be as precise as saying this should start the second quarter of 2018 but we’re really going to position them as a pipeline. The recommendations will make it very clear as to how they interact with each other.

It will be clear that before you go to that big piece of new infrastructure as option D, you’ve got to do A, B and C beforehand. Everybody will understand why it makes sense to do A, B and C before D. Again, we recommend but the government of the day decides. They may want to go straight to D but everyone will be able to measure the consequences of the impact of bypassing A, B and C and going straight to D.

R+BA – As part of this process you’ve used citizen juries?

MM – Yes

R+BA – How does this work? What have they been deciding upon?

MM – We were very keen to ensure that in process of the developing the 30-year infrastructure we had depth and breadth in the consultation. This was about real, genuine engagement, not just an exercise in ticking a box. The citizen jury is a very interesting way to give a voice to the people. It was fundamental to have the right tool, the right mechanism to have the community express their views.

We’ve created two citizen juries – one in metropolitan Melbourne and another in regional Victoria which is based in Shepparton. These citizen juries are two groups of 40-ish people which have been randomly selected but statistically representative of regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne.

They spend six Saturdays meeting every few weeks and work like a court jury. Each jury has the opportunity to call on experts on a range of issues- from former treasurers, experts in transport planning, specialist in schools or education and so on – in order to gather evidence.

At the same time they are going through all of the options which we tabled. At the end of the process, they will deliberate and provide their recommendations.

The interesting thing with the citizen jury is that you need to reach consensus with forty people. What we’ve seen is when you take forty people from all parts of the socio-demographic fabric of Victoria, you get a lot of common sense.

When you ask them to come up with one common view on the future of transport or education, the answer you get is just fascinating. We’re very keen to see what their recommendations will be, which will form a key input to the draft strategy.

R+BA – Will we be able to see a report on that process and their input? Will that be identifiable in that draft strategy as ‘here’s what the jury said’?

MM – Absolutely. It will be clear where the jury’s recommendations are positioned in the draft strategy but we will also be releasing the citizen juries’ recommendations in full prior to that.

R+BA – When you released the options paper, it must have been terribly frustrating having some politicians and media outlets falsely reporting about Infrastructure Victoria making recommendations for projects rather accurately describing projects in the report as options for consideration. How would you address those commentators?

MM – I fully acknowledge that the complexity of what we’ve embarked upon developing a 30-year infrastructure strategy is not something intuitive to grasp. We’ve been engaging with the media at length to readdress that perception. We are keen to reiterate that these are options, not recommendations. Everything is on the table and this options stage was really when we invited the community to tell us what they think and what we missed as we prepare the draft strategy.

It is very satisfying to feel people are now inside the tent with us and really eager to provide their views. In fact, the number of submissions we’ve received echoes that.

R+BA – How important are cost benefit ratios? Are there circumstances when projects should be built regardless of the cost implications?

MM – Benefit cost analysis is a very interesting aspect of what we are doing. Infrastructure Victoria was created for three purposes. The first one is to develop the 30-year infrastructure strategy. That is a very strong focus this year. The second one is to provide advice to the government on projects and the government has already requested Infrastructure Victoria to provide advice on the second container port in Melbourne. The third is our research program.

Through our research program we looking at the tools currently being used in decision-making and assessing projects, including benefit cost analysis. It’s a very useful tool but its an imperfect tool, because it only captures economic benefits and costs. We are currently trying to capture social and environment benefits in monetary terms.

Currently, we take full cost of an engineering solution, a tunnel for instance, but we do not take account of any benefits from leaving everything above ground flourishing in terms of social and environment impact which is a problem. Everybody recognises that. When I say everybody, I mean Infrastructure Australia and the state infrastructure bodies. Victoria is taking the lead in working on this.

R+BA Looking back upon the East West Link Saga, what do you take out from that whole process that eventuated?

MM – To be clear, Infrastructure Victoria is positioned to look ahead at the next 30 years. We’re not looking back at past decisions. The past is the past. This is not our field. We are taking for granted as a base case all of the major projects which are fully committed and funded. That’s why people are asking, “Why aren’t you talking about the Western Distributor? Why aren’t you looking at the level crossings?” We are not assessing those. We take those projects already underway as the base case in projecting ahead for the next 30 years. When it comes to what has been known in the past as the East West, we are steering clear from politics. We are steering clear from what it was and we’re looking at what it should be in the future. Our recommendation could be completely different from what has been known as East West. We’re not barracking for an option or solution in particular. We’re just looking in an evidence-based way at what is for the good of Victoria in the next 30 years.

 

 

 

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Red+Black interview with Jennifer Cunich, CEO of the Australian Institute of Architects

In May the Australian Institute of Architects ushered in a new era in their history with the commencement of a new CEO, Jennifer Cunich. In the weeks since beginning her new role, Cunich has been traveling across the country, meeting with Institute members and staff. Recently she took time out to answer some questions on the current position of the Institute and her vision for the future.

Jennifer CunichRed+Black Architect – As someone who led the Victorian Branch of the Property Council for 14 years, there must be an array of organisations that would love to have you. Why did you choose the Australian Institute of Architects in particular as your next career move?

Jennifer Cunich – The extensive time I spent at the Property Council was enjoyable for many reasons. In particular however I loved working within the property sector. Being involved with an organisation whose members build our cities and change the built environment is something I value. The opportunity to work with the Australian Institute of Architects was an opportunity to work with the designers of our cities but also an opportunity to stay within this broader field.

R+BA – What is the biggest challenge ahead as you see it for the Australian Institute of Architects?

JC – Policy and advocacy is a key area for our members. Architects can play a greater role in the community and a key challenge will be strengthening our voice in a space that has already been dominated by a variety of organisations with competing agendas.

R+BA – On the flip side to this, what is the biggest opportunity for the Institute?

JC – At the same time the above is one of our biggest opportunities. In order to be stronger and more effective in bringing about change within Australian communities, participants in the built environment need to work better together. I will be reaching out to the major industry bodies and professional institutes to foster greater awareness of design in our built environment, and increase understanding that architecture and creative design are part of a solution to many problems.

Our new strategic plan which focuses on membership services, advocacy and education is also a great opportunity to review our programs to better help members with the changing needs of modern practice.

R+BA – What do you make of the AIA’s financial position? How dire is it?

JC – The Institute has made some very positive changes to its business model over the last 12 months which has already made an impact on the financial situation as outlined in the Annual Report. The focus is on reducing non-essential operating costs and aligning resources with the core areas of membership services, advocacy and education. An IT upgrade is currently underway which will further reduce the ongoing operating costs of relying on bespoke and out-of-date IT systems. We were asset heavy and are actively re-addressing the balance.

R+BA – How do you think the AIA and architects generally are perceived by the wider community?

JC – Architects have always made considerable contributions to our communities and I believe a vast proportion of the community understand the role they play and are actually in awe of architect’s skills. However, there is certainly still an opportunity globally to broaden the public’s understanding of what architects do and can do especially in future-proofing cities. I believe the Institute is well regarded publicly as a strong voice of the profession. Programs such as the Awards are well publicised nationally, showcasing how even individual projects can make big impacts. Last year’s National Awards featured on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, so there is an interest and an appetite for architecture beyond the profession.

R+BA – Do you see your role as one primarily of governance, or will advocacy also be a big part of what you bring to the Institute?

JC – In my mind both governance and advocacy will be critical parts of my role as CEO. Having good governance and leadership within the Institute will be critical to the future success of the organisation.

Advocacy will also be a critical both in terms of advocacy to the community and also advocacy to government.

R+BA – Previously at the Property Council you have spoken out in opposition to minimum apartment standards similar to SEPP 65 being adopted in Victoria. Have your views changed on this issue?

JC – I have previously spoken against minimum apartment sizes with the State Government. The issue as I see it is one of quality rather than quantity of apartment. I am concerned that if minimum sizes were to eventuate, apartments of poor quality design could potentially be approved just because they pass the ‘minimum size test’. As Institute members are well aware, site specific high quality design is essential if the buildings are to leave a positive legacy.

R+BA – Over the last five or so years there has been a substantial push for greater gender equity in the architecture profession. This has been primarily led by what is now Parlour Inc. How visible has this been to observers outside of Architecture?

JC – The push for gender equity is something that has really gained momentum in the broader community over the last 12 months. Within the Institute substantial progress is continuing. The National Committee for Gender Equity  was established in 2014 and has been making excellent progress. The Institute has implemented a Gender Equity Policy and in the NSW Chapter, a Champions of Change program was established in 2015, for large practice leaders to effect change within their practices.

More recently we have seen the gender equity mandate included within the new governance structure, we have launched the Paula Whitman Leadership in Gender Equity Prize, we continue to address relevant equity topics in our CPD Program and we have the regular Women in Architecture feature in E-News, among other initiatives. So I think it is fair to say that a lot is now happening on this issue

R+BA – How much importance do you place on improving gender equity and diversity?

JC – Improving gender equity and diversity is very important. I have found it particularly pleasing to see so many women working at various levels across the Institute. As far as the profession of architecture is concerned, I think that perhaps the biggest challenge is keeping women in the profession. In particular the impact that family commitments can have on a career is something that I think needs attention.

R+BA – What lessons have you learnt from your time at the Property Council that you think the Institute should pick up upon?

JC – There are many skills that I will bring to the Institute from my time at the Property Council. Despite the differences between the organisations such as the composition of the membership (the Institute is comprised of individuals rather than companies), it is still vital for the leadership to gain consensus and manage member expectations.

Perhaps my biggest value to the Institute will be my skills and experience of advocating with government. With greater focus on cities and creative industries across the various levels of government the ability for the architecture profession to advocate for a better future will be critical to the success of the Australian Institute of Architects.

R+BA – thanks for your time

 

For more information about the Australian Institute of Architects or to become a member, visit their website http://www.architecture.com.au

Architecture is for eveyone

 

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Crisis or Opportunity? Red+Black interview with Thomas Fisher

how Soon is Now

One of the standout highlights of the 2o16 National Architecture Conference, How Soon is Now, was the closing keynote address delivered by Thomas Fisher.  Thomas Fisher is a professor in the School of Architecture, the Dayton Hudson Chair in Urban Design at the University of Minnesota, and Director of the Metropolitan Design Center at the College of Design. He is also author of the extraordinary book titled ‘In the Scheme of Things’. The Red+Black Architect was fortunate enough to speak with Thomas Fisher on the first afternoon of presentations, prior to his powerful closing address.

Thomas Fisher, speaking at How Soon is Now. (image courtesy of the Australian Institute of Architects)

Thomas Fisher, speaking at How Soon is Now. (image courtesy of the Australian Institute of Architects)

Red + Black Architect – It seems the architecture profession has been in a continual crisis for about some time now. How did we get into this position and how long have we had this certain crisis?

Thomas Fisher – Well, I suppose it depends on what crisis you’re referring to, there’s sort of the post-Great Recession crisis, but it sounds like you’re referring to something longer-term than that.

R+BA – Yes, more recently we had the global financial crisis, but it goes back much further than that, possibly back to modernism potentially.

TF – I guess my view of things is that when things aren’t working, it’s usually a signal that it’s time for a change. I think one of the things that I find fascinating about our profession is that, on one hand, we’re sometimes extraordinary risk-takers when it comes to form and even ideas, but when it comes to our own practices we are incredibly risk-averse. As we just heard from Andrew Beer, the Dean from the South Australian Business School, we have been for quite a while going through a phenomenal change in our economy, which is requiring everybody to come up with new delivery models, new business models.

In theory, you would think the design community would be good at this, but in fact have been fairly conservative in our willingness to try completely new ways of doing things, so I see every crisis as an opportunity, as I think we do when we design. I mean usually clients are coming to us with a crisis, right.

R+BA – Absolutely

TF – The design is the way to get them past their crisis. Well, okay, if our profession is in crisis, we need to design a way out of this, and I think to be a designer you have to be optimistic. I believe that this is just an opportunity for us to do things in different ways.

R+BA – What are the biggest problems facing our profession, as you see it?

TF- Compensation is often brought up and we have fee structures that are really presented as if we’re at cost, like our buildings are at cost, and what we don’t really recognize is that we save our clients far more money than it cost them. If you just look at energy savings, we save our clients vast amounts of money through design strategies that we now use and, so, I think one of the challenges we have is that we need to frame ourselves as how much we save clients. You pay us more we’ll be able to save you more because we spend more time saving you money. If you don’t pay us much, we won’t save you much and it’ll actually cost you more.

R+BA – Perhaps this is causing a vicious cycle where architects are not being paid enough, so they don’t have enough time to do the job well enough, to justify increasing fees.

TF – Yes and in this regard, I’m also fairly critical of the universities. I don’t think schools of architecture have done enough to actually do the kind of research that would provide the kind of information to the profession to make these architects. We all know about post occupancy evaluations, but those tend to be more from a user point of view. I think that there’s a lot of research opportunity there to actually go back in and benchmark what the building could have been, what are sort of standard products would have been and how much the architect saved them in terms of everything from performance and operations to savings on turnover of staff. I mean all of these things are costly to clients and, so, the universities need to have a research agenda, which is, I think, more closely aligned to what the needs of the profession are.

R+BA – Research is one role of the universities, but what about the education about next generation of architects? What do you think needs to be done in that regard?

TF – That’s right. I think we are moving into a time where it’s a little bit along the lines of what happened in the legal profession and I think I write about that a bit In the Scheme of Things.  The legal profession in the Great Depression of the 1930s was in similar turmoil. They used to go to law school to become a trial lawyer. That was what lawyers did because they learned how to write briefs and to argue cases in front of judges. In the Great Depression of the 1930s there were too many graduates of law schools coming out for the need for trial lawyers and, so, there was a conversation in the middle of the 20th century of maybe we should close down half of the law schools, but instead what the law did is it reinterpreted what it meant to study law, so, now, trial law is just one of many avenues. There’s environment law, there’s corporate law, there’s a wide range of legal paths you can take. I think that some of the data seems to suggest that less than 50% of lawyers ever set foot in a courtroom at all in their entire career. So trial law, which used to be all of law, is now just one of many things.

I say this because I think the architectural profession is going through the same transition. We will always do buildings, like there are lawyers who will always be trying cases in court, but buildings will be only one of a wide range of value-added services that we’ll be offering clients and communities. Some of those will involve design problems that don’t really involve buildings at all, so part of the educational shift that has to happen in architecture is similar to what happened in law, which is that you go to architectural school not to learn how to design and build buildings. You go to architecture school to think like a designer and the applications of that are much broader than what we have been doing in the past.

R+BA – ‘In the Scheme of Things’ is now about 20 years old and you are just about to launch a new book. How has your thinking changed over this period?

TF – I think one of the biggest differences is the economy has changed, the context has changed and when I wrote In the Scheme of Things, I was still fairly focused on architecture. I wrote this for essentially an architecture readership.

The new book, which is about applying design thinking to our politics, to our economy, to higher education, to infrastructure, to a whole range of systems that are not working very well, is really aimed at decision-makers, so the audience of the book is very different because I think we spend a lot of time in the profession talking to ourselves. The new book is really an integration of many pieces that I’ve been writing in the Huffington Post for the last several years. I’ve been writing in the Huffington Post because many staffers for politicians, particularly in the English-speaking world, read the Post.

I thought, well, I could write and I just continue to write in architecture magazines for the profession, but I thought if I’m going to be writing about the value of design and design thinking, I needed to be in a place where non-designers were reading and, so, the Post has been a terrific place to do that. At some point I’ve written so many pieces I started to wonder, well, do they fit together and is there a bigger argument? The new book has really stitched together many Huffington Post pieces into a set of arguments that’s really about design thinking applied to some of these bigger systems that we don’t think of as design. I mean our economy is a design of system. Our politics is a design of system and there are, frankly, not working very well because they’re badly designed.

R+BA – This seems to be one of the overarching things we’ve seen so far in the conference, with a lot of discussion about cities, big infrastructure projects, zooming in to the fine detail, but then looking at the bigger picture as well.

TF – I think that’s actually one of the great skills that we learn in architecture school that we take so for granted, but very few other disciplines do this, is that ability to zoom out and zoom in on scale. Many disciplines work at a particular scale. I have colleagues in engineering who just look at nano technology, the nano scale. I have geography colleagues that only look at the sort of geographical scale. We’re one of the few that sort of go in and out constantly. What that does is that you start to see connections depending on the scales that you’re working at, and that’s both spatial scale, but it’s also temporal scale. At a time when the context within which we’re working is changing dramatically, I mean one of the differences is that I don’t even know if I mentioned climate change In the Scheme of Things. I mean the idea of climate change 20, 25 years ago hadn’t really hit us yet.

R+BA – 20 years ago it was still being perceived as another generation’s problem.

TF – Right. At least we talked about energy conservation, things like that, but we hadn’t really seen it happen and, so, we’re living in this time when there is all of these larger contextual changes happening and that ability to see connections at various scales is one of the most valuable things that we do. We don’t tell clients that and, again, this is part of the problem. They think, “Oh, you’re an architect. I only need to talk to you when I need building.” When, in fact, where we should be as a profession is, “You know, we’re having a lot of problems in our community and they seem to happen at different scales. Can you help us?” I would argue that that is an architecture problem, or at least it’s a design problem.

R+BA – In some of your recent work you have discussed the idea of an architectural equivalent of a public health service. Could you elaborate on that idea?

TF – My interest in public health started when my colleague, who is the dean of the School of Public Health at my university, was writing a history of that field and he started to ask me about Frederick Law Olmsted. I wondered why he cared about Frederick Law Olmsted, the American landscape architect who designed Central Park. Well, it turns out in the American Civil War, Olmsted, with a group of doctors, started this thing called the American Sanitary Commission, which became the American Red Cross. So a landscape architect was essentially at the beginning of the public health movement, at least in the United States. It turns out that was true in other countries as well.

I also became interested in the fact that the public health community was increasingly interested in working with our disciplines because many of their challenges like obesity and cardiovascular disease, asthma, automobile accidents, whatever, all of these are built environment-related, so they were increasingly wanting to partner with us.

It is also worth noting that the public health impacts of what we do are so enormously costly, so when, again, we’re faced by communities who may wonder, “Well, why should I hire an architect? You guys are expensive” is when you look at the ways in which we’re now living, the obesity epidemic alone, at least in the United States, we spend $176 billion a year just on obesity-related illness. I don’t know what the global number is, but there was a World Health Organization report that came out a couple of weeks ago that said that obesity globally is now at a record rate 1 in 11 people are obese.

When you have a client or community that says, “Well, why would we need to bother hiring designers,” in fact, we can align ourselves with public health to say that part of what we do as a design community is think about the health impacts. Those health impacts are so expensive that whatever our interventions cost they’re minuscule in comparison to what we’re going to save society by improving the health of this population. So again, this idea that design is on the saving side, it’s not on the cost side of the ledger.

Thomas Fisher discussing his design thinking consultancy for the Centre for Disease Control. (Image courtesy of the Australian Institute of Architects)

Thomas Fisher discussing his design thinking consultancy for the Centre for Disease Control. (Image courtesy of the Australian Institute of Architects)

R+BA – Yes, and I think that goes for things like apartment design for example where you’ve seen in several cities very ordinary buildings go up with very poor amenity. You have to wonder what the health impact of those design decisions and the forces that culminate in those buildings will be.

TF – Yes, I think there’s a lot of conversation in the States, but I think it’s a global conversation. The public health community has essentially started a health impact assessment process and there’s a lot of conversation going on about making that just part of all decision-making. That our transportation decisions, our housing decisions, our urban design decisions, all need to asking what are the health impacts of this decision versus that? Because, again, the health impacts are so costly that we’ve been making decisions thinking we’re taking the least cost route, when truly this route is in fact the most costly because of the long-term negative health impacts that these decisions are having.

I’m very interested and to me this is how the design community can make big improvements. A lot of conversation at this conference is about agency. We talk about how to get people to listen. Well, I find this is really why my more recent work has been spending a lot of time looking at the economics, because you can make economic arguments. You don’t even have to argue that design makes our lives better. We all know that, but the economic argument itself is so compelling that it drives people to the design community and, then, we can do the other good things that we know how to do.

Despite all the talk about a crisis, all I see in this is opportunities. I just think the ways in which we can define our value or demonstrate our value is just enormous. It’s just there for us to take.

R+BA – Thank you for your time

 

Thomas Fishers new book is entitled ‘Designing Our Way to a Better World’ and has just been released.

 

Architecture is for Everyone

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