Opinion

A decade in review: Marcus Trimble

February 7, 2011

The Director of Sydney architecture firm Supercolossal on the commodification of architecture, The Architects on RRR and the broad appeal of architectural nerdery.

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The market and plan literacy

This decade has seen real estate recast as entertainment. A decade ago, the real estate listings comprised of pages of three- to four- line text listings, with the occasional ‘prestige’ property that was afforded a half page ad. Today, listings are full page by default; they are in glossy booklets, on websites and are televised. Real estate agents have pioneered a strategy of photography and post- production that leaves every house sitting beneath an infinite summer of perfect blue skies, while the agents’ smiling heads line the streets broadcasting their recent triumphs.

While this commodification of architecture is bemoaned, the upside is that the population is now far more literate in the language of buildings. Critically, every property is listed on domain.com.au and other real estate sites with to-scale floor plans, and as such the client base for architecture has been exposed to this most basic of architectural tools to a degree previously unheard of. Literate clients are good for the profession and the real estate agents are educating the population for us, for free.

The Architects on RRR

Every Tuesday since 2004, Simon Knott, Stuart Harrison, Rory Hyde and, more recently, Christine Phillips host The Architects on Melbourne public radio station Triple R. The typical show features news and events from the world of architecture and an interview/discussion with a local or international architect.

It is local radio, but international syndication through podcasting means that it has a global audience. The success of the show is that it brings broad appeal to architectural nerdery, delivering an intelligent discussion on the built environment to an incredibly wide audience. The wide audience does not mean that the content is watered down but rather the opposite – the hosts are disarmingly frank and direct with their critique of the built environment. They talk about architecture in a plain spoken way that is accessible for the general listener and particular enough to be an important contribution to the detailed discussion of architecture within the profession.

SEPP65

It is near impossible to demolish a strata title apartment building. Without 100 percent owners’ consent, the only option open to individuals or groups without unanimous support is to go to the Supreme Court. Given this reality, it is clear that the strata apartment buildings that do get built need to be of good stock.
In 2002, the New South Wales State Environmental Planning Policy 65 – Design Quality of Residential Flat Development (SEPP 65) was adopted. It stipulates that for an apartment building of three or more storeys, a registered architect is required to verify the design and construction of the development. It sets out a series of ‘design quality principles’ that must be considered, and puts in place ‘design review panels’ to review relevant applications.

The result of this has been a clear improvement in the overall quality of apartment buildings in New South Wales. This improvement extends beyond the immediate benefit of an increase in thoughtfully designed buildings, to creating a far more attractive proposition for higher density living. Better apartment buildings make the pitch to increase much needed higher density developments in suburban centres and along rail corridors a more palatable prospect to the local constituents.

Marcus Trimble is the director of Sydney architecture practice Supercolossal.

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