There's been a lot of talk within the profession lately about the value of architecture. Some architects, including immediate past president of the Institute, Jon Clements, have called upon architects to demand fees that accurately reflect the skills and expertise, not to mention the energy and resources, they bring to the design process.
Last year Clements complained that government procurement processes demanded too much from architects for fees that were too low. He wrote:
"How did we get to this point? Why has it become the apparent norm that architects should hand over their intellectual property, along with their fees, before they win a project, only to provide an organisation with the opportunity to select the cheapest team to deliver the most fitting concept? This was not an endorsed competition – this was a public tender on a significant public building that deserves the best possible outcome through a legitimate and transparent procurement process."
Conversations I've had with architects this week - at the national awards and anecdotally - suggest this is a widespread problem, and one that threatens the sustainability of the profession.
On the other hand, the NSW Government Architect, as part of the Department of Planning and Environment, last week launched a design competition open to registered architects, graduates, building designers AND students to come up with housing designs that prototype the draft design guide, The Missing Middle.
Firstly, this design guide would have been a lot more influential if it had been adopted as a SEPP, like the apartment design guide - SEPP 65 - that is now being replicated in other states. Secondly, why is the NSW Government Architect endorsing a competition that will pay a total of $50k total to three winners and four runners up?
If the profession wants to be taken seriously, and to forge a sustainable role in the new economy, architects need to stop giving away their most valuable asset: design thinking all of the expertise and skills that come with it. The government should pay proper fees for its "testing" and "modelling", and architects should spurn opportunities to give away their concepts and ideas for very little recompense and reward.
The sustainable development of our future cities relies on the design skills of architects - from small public projects, though the gamut of residential typologies to large scale city-defining schemes. Architects need to stand up for the value they bring to the equation and demand proper recognition for their contributions.