The Australian Architecture Association, Interview with Steve Rose

The Architecture Profession in Australia has many different organisations, associations and collectives. These groups all have different specific purposes and have varying degrees of influence.

Recently I caught up with Steve Rose who is an Architect and principal of his independent practice Steve Rose Architect. Steve describes what he does within his practice as ‘problem solving with building materials’. Outside his practice Steve is also very active in the wider Architecture profession and is concerned with the current state of our built environment and the role of architects in its shaping. This concern has led to his involvement with the Australian Architecture Association.



Red +Black Architect – What is the Australian Architecture Association?

Steve Rose – The AAA is a not-for-profit organisation that is dedicated exclusively to increasing public awareness and an appreciation of contemporary architecture.  We strive to build a greater understanding of the value of good architecture to society and a growth in the culture of architecture.  The AAA currently does this through a series of public lectures, talks, tours and exhibitions, connecting architects and the public in discussions over their work.  Most of our current organisations are architect focused, this is good for discourse and development but as advocates they preach to the converted.  I believe its the public that should be a big part of the focus.  We currently channel our efforts on people that are interested in design, the goal is to increase this group.

R+BA – How did you become involved?

SR –I followed the AAA since its inception by Glenn Murcutt and Annette Dearing in 2004 as I knew its intent was good, I considered becoming a member however I could not see the value as a Victorian.  I noticed the Sydney chapter was growing well but something was amiss in my city.  I contacted the AAA and quizzed them on this and also offered a hand.  They told me their mission and I have since become a paid member and also their Victorian Representative.  It is a voluntary role and a cause that I believe is important and worth pursuing.

R+BA – What would you like to achieve as the Victorian representative of the AAA?

SR – A better awareness by the public to the benefits of good design   A greater uptake of architectural services that will result in a better built outcome.  The benefits of the AAA to architects is long term however I hope that we can start with greater membership to assist us in providing more events and better opportunities to get our word out.  The events that we have organised so far promote the benefits of using an architect.  The benefit to architects is also direct by opening discussion and constructive criticism of the current state of our city.

R+BA – Do you think the AAA is currently too focused on Sydney?

SR – Unfortunately yes, however I plan to change this.  The AAA is a small, dedicated organisation and we do what we can.  Saying that, the AAA has introduced some very important international architects to Victoria including Jean Nouvel, Peter Zumthor, David Chipperfield, Rick Joy to name a few.  Beyond these big talks the AAA has up until recently offered little else in other states, this is where I have offered to assist as their person on the ground in Victoria.

I recently organised a tour and talk of the RMIT Design Hub with Sean Godsell, this was excellent and his insight was invaluable.  I also formed a collaboration between the AAA & Melbourne Architours to help promote the excellent work of both groups.  Members of the AAA are offered discounts to current Architours and we can also create individual tours as required.  International guests and universities contact the AAA and now Architours will happily run these in Melbourne.  We have a number of things in the pipeline for the end of the year and I am also setting out the Victorian program for 2015, keep an eye out.

R+BA – Do you think the Architecture profession in Australia is in crisis?

SR – I recently curated the open discussion at the New Architects Melbourne (NAM) talks where I tabled this statement.  I used the word crisis to spark the debate to a group of like minded architects.  I am not sure we want to be using this term when speaking to the public as it more than likely focuses on the negative.  There is no doubt we are in an evolving profession with changes coming from every angle, we need to adjust our approach but we also need to adjust the perception of architects by the public.

We love what we do and it is true that we want to create work for ourselves but we do this as we want to live in better cities, better building & better urban landscapes.   We do this work and we have these discussions primarily because we want something better for ourselves, our families and our communities.

R+BA – So what needs to be done?

SR – We need to communicate with the public more and have a better interface.  We need to pool together and come up with better strategies to get this message across.

How many times do you find yourself  meeting someone and they say ‘I always wanted to be an architect’, unfortunately their desire to engage with us often stops there.  We need to change this.

There is a perception that we are an elitist group catering to the 1%, this is simply not the case.  The value or our knowledge and skill set is extremely beneficial in creating better outcomes from small pieces of architecture through to the largest scale of the built environment.  We need the public, councils and the government to see this.

There is a perception that we are expensive but when you look at the number of hours and the effort on any project, flipping burgers is more lucrative.  Similarly the cost of a realtor relative to the value of a building is amazing, why do people not see the same value in an architect.

This approach can also come from the top down in lobbying government at every level.  These are the harder tasks and there are plenty willing to to take on this challenge.  Our local and state chapters of the AIA are all working on this and I commend them for it.  We as architects need to support the AIA and collectively show that we care by being members and remaining active.

R+BA – How well do you think architects communicate with the general public?

SR – Very poorly at the moment.  There seems to be some discontent internally however the conversation may need to get a little wider before we figure it all out.  Maybe we need to talk to other industry bodies to find out what they do.  Lets look to doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants.  I am sure they’ve had to deal with similar issues and they may have solved them.  Lets find out.

My point is that we need to stop complaining about it and start doing more.  If we feel we are not being represented very well then tell someone, tell the people that can make a change. Or make that change yourself and get involved.

R+BA – What recent initiatives do you see as being the most successful in Architectural advocacy?

SR – Going back a little further you cant go past Robin Boyd, he was without doubt Victoria’s greatest architectural advocate.  Not only was he a stellar architect but he also knew that advocacy was all too important.   He published books, he wrote for The Age and any other paper that would run his columns, he hosted TV programs, he offered the Small Homes Service, basically he spoke to the public at any and every opportunity. He created an interest in modern housing that was a better offering for that time (it so happens those offerings are still better than bulk of housing today).

A more recent example is the work of Tony Lees and the Robin Boyd Foundation where he has preserved the Walsh Street Boyd House II and from this base he is carrying on Robin’s legacy and discussing the benefit of good quality architecture with Boyd, Romberg and Grounds’ work as case studies along side contemporary architecture of our time.

The Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) are a very important and large organisation.  They are our peak body that run numerous programs to the benefit of its members and interestingly to non members and the public.  In terms of advocacy, the awards program is probably the most successful tool however I think this needs to be promoted a little harder (I have raised this with the AIA a number of times).  They recently installed a number of huge billboards promoting architects.  While it may be promoting a particular business and website the effects are far wider.  Refer to my websites journal here for a quick take on this one.

Individuals like Stuart Harrison, Katelin Butler and Stephen Crafti are all great advocates for architects.  Stuart speaks on RRR for ‘The Architects’ radio show with Simon Knott, Christine Phillips and their international correspondent Rory Hyde.  He and Stephen both write articles and have both published numerous books.  Stephen also runs a very successful series of private house tours for a core group of people interested in good design.  Katelin writes, writes and writes.  As the editor of Houses she is a great proponent of good design.

As I mentioned Melbourne Architours run an excellent program of tours discussing the current state of our city aimed at the public and interested groups.

Finally the AAA in Sydney run regular tours, talks and exhibitions that advocate for good design to the broader community and they open up discussion within the industry on this topic.  I plan to develop this program in Victoria to provide plenty more great events and initiatives.

R+BA – As a practitioner who entered the Flinders Street Station Design Ideas Competition, what are your thoughts on architectural competitions for sites such as Flinders Street Station?

SR – Architectural competitions are very important.  These are the only opportunities for smaller unknown practices to get a leg up on such large scale work, LAB on Fed Sq is a prime example.  They’re also an excellent way of engaging the public in such projects and opening up discussions about these sites.  Unfortunately in Australia they tend to be political footballs with fewer results.  Other countries seem to put much greater value in these and I think their buildings and cities are better for it.  The US has made everyone very risk averse so they stick with people that have been tested, collaborations are an easy way to solve this.

I remember the AIA were very involved in architectural competitions some years ago however for some reason this has dropped off.  I will raise this as the next AIA forum as I am interested to hear what they say.

You also need to be pretty careful with competitions, they are very time consuming so you have to pick ones that have a chance.  You need to be wary but they are an excellent opportunity.

R+BA – If you could say one thing to the Australian public what would it be?

SR – Look around and want for more.  Good quality architecture inspires and helps with good quality living.

R+BA – Thanks for your time.


For more information on the Australian Architecture Association check out their website


Architecture is for Everyone



About Michael Smith

Architect and Director of Atelier Red + Black based in Melbourne, Australia
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2 Responses to The Australian Architecture Association, Interview with Steve Rose

  1. Great interview, Michael and Steve. A good series of questions and eloquent, thoughtful answers. I think the focus of the AAA – raising public awareness of the value of architecture – is actually reasonably well represented, though could definitely be louder in the public consciousness. A couple of other good advocates Steve missed include Melbourne Open House and the MPavilion. The former is well-established and going great guns, will be interesting to see how the latter plays out this and across future summers. As for the AAA, I’m really looking forward to see it grow in its prominence and performance here in Melbourne.

  2. Pingback: 2014 Retrospective | The Red and Black Architect

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