A leading industry body has called on the next government to adopt a national policy for architecture, saying that such a policy would help to to ensure that Australia creates buildings and public spaces which are conducive to positive social, economic, environmental outcomes.

Releasing its Federal Election Platform for 2019, the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) has called upon whomever wins government to recognise the role of design in maximising economic benefits and creating functional and attractive urban spaces.

Specifically, the AIA has called for a National Architecture Policy which would recognise and extend the contribution of the architecture professions toward delivering places of all scales which are vibrant and sustainable for all Australians and for the economy.

As part of this, the AIA is calling for the appointment of the Australian Government Architect, who would support an integrated approach to built environment policy and practice across all tiers of government and would engage with industry to advance public outcomes.

The policy would also prioritise evidence-based research on the urban environment via the Australian Research Council, seek appropriate allocation of project risk in consultant contracts and would set benchmarks and advocate for best practice in procurement.

Greater attention to design and sustainability outcomes would also be afforded when entering into funding, programs and partnerships such as City Deals.

AIA National President Clare Cousins said an architecture policy would deliver substantial benefits.

“We believe the government can, and should, be doing far more to capitalise on the creativity of our homegrown design professionals and the worldwide reputation Australian architects have for creative and innovative design leadership,” Cousins said.

“This too can pay a triple dividend, economically through the almost billion-dollar value architectural tourism brings to the economy, but also by creating buildings and public spaces that are environmentally and socially sustainable and culturally rich.”

As well, the AIA has called on the successful party to:

  • Undertake a range of measures to improve housing affordability, accessibility and sustainability
  • Improve building safety by reforming building regulation and compliance
  • Amend the National Construction Code to mandate the use of architects for institutional buildings and residential buildings that are three storeys and over
  • Legislate for post-construction audits to measure as-built environmental performance; and
  • Include more stringent energy standards in the NCC.

Throughout the election campaign, architecture has not been a headline policy for either major political party.

The Coalition’s policy platform mentions a raft of infrastructure commitments but is silent about measures to improve building quality or urban liveability.

Labor’s platform, by contrast, does make some mention of urban policy. It wants to appoint a Minister for Cities (which the Coalition has already done), update the National Urban Policy, establish a Major Cities Unit within Infrastructure Australia, reconvene the Urban Policy Forum, publish annually the State of the Cities report and replace the Coalition’s City Deals with a new City Partnerships program which it says will foster better collaboration between the three levels of government.

Neither party’s platform mentions a Government Architect, building regulations or an architecture or design policy.

Cousins calls on major parties to display courage in this area.

“The upcoming election has the potential to be a real watershed moment in Australia’s medium-term political future,” she said.

“The key areas the Institute has identified in our election platform intersect with the interests of almost all Australians, which is unsurprising given the many touchpoints we have with the built environment in our daily lives.

“But that only reinforces why it is so important for our incoming national government – however it is constituted – to address the challenges and implement the solutions we have identified.”