We Need Better Design


The Australian Institute of Architects hosted an informal forum with John Langoulant and directors from Perth’s biggest architecture practices last month, to discuss his Special Inquiry into Government Programs and Projects. The frank and fearless conversation indicated there is an urgent need for better State Government contracting processes to improve the design and delivery of new public buildings.

Mr Langoulant said architects need to join forces with other built environment professionals to pursue the changes we seek from government. The institute believes the State Government should reinstate architects as the lead consultants on public projects, because registered architects have the required training, expertise and insurance cover to ensure that the needs of government clients are at the forefront of decision making. Across the life of the project, architects can ensure that amenity, aesthetic and technical considerations are balances against quality, long term maintenance, capital expenses and running costs.

In recent years, the WA government has used procurement and contract methods that unintentionally contribute to poor outcomes. Design and construct and public-private partnership contracts often marginalise the role of architects, who are contractually not able to freely consult with the client and end-users of the proposed building. These contract methods also establish adversarial relationships at the start of projects, impacting negatively on communications and problem-solving capacity throughout. As lead consultants in the built environment, the Institute along with Consult Australia and the Association of Consulting Architects, calls on government to act as a model client. That means establishing project teams and including relevant disciplines, working together in a collaborative way, with continued contact with client representatives and end users. Then, if unexpected issues arise during a project, these can be resolved constructively rather than resorting to threats of, or actual, legal action.

Mr Langoulant made 12 whole-of-government recommendations in his report, three of which impact on our profession’s ability to deliver well-designed public buildings. These relate to procurement, contract management and project management, where he identified the need for additional “guidance, support, education and expertise to improve public sector capability”. The steady drain of experience and corporate knowledge out of the public sector has led to a situation identified by Mr Langoulant whereby some government departments are not sufficiently skilled or resourced to undertake procurement of major projects.

The institute offers all levels of government the opportunity to use an independent panel of experienced registered architects for procurement processes. The provision of beautiful new public buildings is an issue that affects everybody. Well-designed buildings provide good amenity, use fewer resources in construction, use less energy and water, last longer and need less maintenance. Most of all, they provide comfortable and welcoming places for people to gather, work, learn and play. It’s worth getting the procurement process right, from the start, to ensure the best outcome.

Seen in The West Australian | Wednesday, May 9, 2018