Truth in advertising?

What’s true and what’s fake news? Does it even matter? I think it does, so when I saw a NSW builder advertising “architecturally designed homes” - without an architect in their design team - I asked them to please explain.

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Basically, it’s not ok to call yourself an Architect (because the term is protected by law) if you haven’t:

  • completed the undergraduate and masters degrees (five years of university qualifications);

  • registered with a log book and by sitting an exam; and

  • got the right insurance in place to protect consumers and clients.

Why is it important to make this distinction between architects and other types of building designers?

For a couple of reasons:

  • the term architect used to be a catch-all for all kinds of designers, but about 20 years ago, Australian states and territories enacted legislation to protect the word, to distinguish it from people who held lesser qualifications; and

  • Architects have a unique set of skills and they can’t promote these qualification and attributes, unless they can accurately describe them and distinguish themselves from other types of designers working in the same space.

So, what happened when I called attention to the breach?

In response to my tweet, Rawson Homes amended its ads, and now they are not claiming any affiliations with an architect, which is a great outcome.

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So, what’s the difference between a home designed by an architect and a non-architect (a builder designer, draftsperson or even a builder)?

A lot, as it happens, and it’s not just about money.  An architect will unpack the client’s needs and wants and come up with a design that takes into account many factors, such as:

  • solar orientation to maximise winter sun and keep our summer sun (to reduce heating and cooling costs);

  • prevailing breezes for passive cooling (perhaps negating the need for air conditioning altogether);

  • materials that are local / durable / low maintenance and in keeping with the neighbourhood;

  • the health and well-being of future residents;

  • the cost of running the house - energy and water bills, and ongoing maintenance - over time (especially important as energy prices keep rising); and much much more.

The initial investment in design may be higher, but the built result will be more functional, efficient and offer better performance for its residents over a century or more.

This is of critical importance as we try and collectively deal with the effects of the climate crisis: more heatwaves, floods, bushfires, higher energy costs, etc.

What can consumers do?

If a building company advertises to its customers that builds “architecturally designed” homes, or has an architect on the team, it pays to ask these questions:

  • Who is the registered architect?

  • Can you meet with them to discuss your design needs?

  • Can the company adapt its existing plans to best suit your site and brief?

If you find out the company doesn’t have an architect on board, let us know, and we will ask them the difficult questions.

Otherwise, it’s like trying to compare apples to oranges.

What can architects do to tackle the problem of misleading advertising?

Basically, if you are not an Architect under the terms of the various Acts - and you can read about those here - you can’t call yourself an architect. However, there are plenty of misleading ads on Google, Facebook and elsewhere at the moment - from building and design companies - that claim to have architects on their team.

It’s obviously a very compelling and useful term to attract potential customers!

At Sounds Like Design, we will address this confusion in the marketplace by helping architects explain their value, and grow their share of the market pie. Other communications firms share our objectives, so we plan to work together to stamp out misleading use of the protected term ‘Architect’.

We’ll use a combination of social media campaigning to seek clarity and amendments to advertising where necessary, and also report any companies that breach the law to the relevant state Architects Registration Boards.

The way I see it, there’s never been a better time in which to be an architect. We face almost overwhelming challenges in the form of the climate emergency and population growth in our cities, but the profession holds many possible solutions and consumers are more ready to hear about these than ever before.

That means there is awareness raising needed within the profession itself, about the opportunities and responsibilities that exist for architects, and in the consumer marketplace. This is likely to be a long campaign!.

What is "definitively unfinished" design?

This week I was transported to New York City as I listened to a podcast suggested by a reader of The Drill.

It was ‘Person Place Thing’ by Randy Cohen, with architect Elizabeth Diller. She explained her concept of projects that are “definitively unfinished”, a term borrowed from artist Marcel Duchamp.

Elizabeth said that some architects - such as Norman Foster - practice “total design”, prescribing the pens and desk lamps in an office building, for example. “Architects are the biggest megalomaniacs in the world,” she claimed!

In contrast, DSR’s projects can easily be: “repurposed, reimagined and rescripted”. “We hand things over to the public and sometimes we find the way things are used is better than we could’ve imagined. It’s kind of great.”

The place she nominated was the sunken theatre overlooking 10th Ave, part of the High Line, which we visited in 2017. It’s a mesmerising place to sit and watch the street - like a fireplace or lava lamp, as Elizabeth described it - where the viewer can look into deep space and see the vanishing point.

It gives people permission to not have to do anything, and helps to reframe the everyday, Elizabeth suggested.

To me, that’s the power of good design.

There’s a link in this week’s Drill newsletter to the podcast if you’re keen to listen to it.

Rachael Bernstone at the 10th Street overpass, The High Line, New York City

Rachael Bernstone at the 10th Street overpass, The High Line, New York City

Robin Boyd: a man whose time has come

There are few people who inspire me more than Robin Boyd, and he features in this week’s issue of The Drill, which contains details about the upcoming celebrations marking 100 years since his birth.

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If you haven’t heard of this pioneering architect, writer and advocate, he’s sure to come on to your radar this year as his many contributions around housing and civic spaces, and the importance of good design for everyday people, are revived and revisited.

I was lucky enough to visit the Walsh St House when the foundation was launched, and I’ve long been an admirer of his writings and ambition to make architecture accessible to everyone.

This year, Monash University Museum of Art is hosting an exhibition about the Small Home Service; the Robin Boyd Foundation has a stellar lineup of events including an open house weekend in November; and Heide MoMA and The Ian Potter Gallery at Melbourne University are mounting exhibitions too.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Boyd’s ideas are applied and reinterpreted as we grapple with some of the most challenging design conditions we’ve seen in decades.

You can find more details, and lots of other relevant architecture news, here

Please subscribe via the form to the right if you want to get future issues of my free newsletter.

And if you’re all over Robin Boyd, what’s your favourite book or initiative of the great man?

The Drill: Fed Sqaure saved from the wrecking ball

Great news that the Yarra Buildingat Fed Square has been saved from demolition today. A rare victory of architecture and culture over corporate ambitions.
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Well done to architect Tania Davidge and Felicity Watson from the National Trust, who led the Our City Our Square campaign against Apple’s proposed demolition.
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You can read all about this announcement and all the other interesting archi-news this week in my free newsletter The Drill, and you can also sign up to receive weekly instalments via the box to the right of this page.