How soon is now?

May 13, 2016

Will future architects be called upon to provide design thinking consultancy as their primary output? Michael Smith, director of Atelier Red + Black, gives his insight on the thought-provoking conversations held at the National Conference in Adelaide.

The following review is contributed by Michael Smith, director of Atelier Red + Black.

How Soon is Now? What does this even mean, apart from being a song title of a British rock band? It was certainly an unusual creative direction for the Australian Institute of Architects National Conference, which recently took place in Adelaide. But this was no usual architecture conference.

Day one of talks revealed a focus on the future of cities and how the projects that architects were involved with now, would soon be making very big impacts.

Sadie Morgan, co-founding director at the London-based dRMM Architects, noted the public perception that London couldn’t deliver large transport infrastructure, due to politics and bureaucracy. A perception that is just as prevalent in Australia’s discussion of high speed rail as it is about London’s High Speed 2 (HS2) project.

Jeffrey Shumaker, the Chief Urban Designer for the New York City discussed the rebalancing of streets to prioritise pedestrians and bicycles over cars. For architects this move seems logical and yet within a car-centric city culture this will continue to be a challenge to deliver.

If there was a take home message after the first day, it was that the many of the big problems facing international cities are in many cases the same as those facing Australian cities. Integral to the solution to these problems, are architects who are willing to roll up their sleeves and wade into the realm of politics and public policy.

Kevin Low of smallprojects set the tone for the second day of presentations with a high energy discussion of design driven by form versus design driven by content. Low’s conclusion was that whilst form driven design can result in delightful outcomes, the richness that can be achieved through content driven design ultimately leads to more successful outcomes. This theme continued in the following discussion on building resilience where David Sanderson from the University of New South Wales, discussed the frequently useless architectural ideas that are put forward as solutions in the humanitarian sector. Domes that frequently leak and structures that are designed to be stacked, despite having no reason to do so, frequently frustrate those using this architecture.

Perhaps the highlight of the conference was the final keynote address by Thomas Fisher. With astute observations about where the architecture profession is headed, Fisher made the bold prediction that in the future architects will be providing design thinking consultancy, as their primary output, rather than designing buildings.

In the next 20 years we are going to experience more rapid changes to our cities and our profession than ever before. How Soon is Now?  It is imminent. 

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