After leaving the launch for the New Zealand Institute of Architects manifesto for New Zealand’s built environment ‘Shaping Our Places’, which took place on 2nd September at Parliament’s Grand Hall, I had a surprisingly positive feeling about the newly formed document mostly because of the fact that such a document exists now, more so than the actual content itself. However during the walk home I began pondering some of the wider questions at hand, which I will attempt to further elucidate.
In an overall sense the manifesto provides a positive platform for discussion and debate into specific areas of concern by outlining a series of five key ‘concepts’ community, sustainable, affordable, heritage and urban places. However, it is apparent that there is much work to do in order to constructively flesh out the issues at hand.
Whilst these areas of concern are pressing and need to be carefully considered, they are by no means ‘concepts’, but rather ‘archetypes’. This may seem pedantic in a way, but I think it is important to make this distinction intellectually, because they form the fundamental basis for the manifesto as well as the trajectory for developing further strategies for an overall vision into New Zealand’s built environment.
My suggestion of using ‘archetypes’ stems from the fact that the idea of what a ‘community place’ is has actually been around for centuries. They are not anything new, nor are they ideas originally conceived by the NZIA.
The importance for this distinction arises when it comes to evaluating and understanding our built environment in comparison to other (and in many circumstances much older) towns and cities of various cultures and societies overseas, as these ‘archetypes’ (such as community and urban places) have been with some of these cultures for a very long time. New Zealand has as much of a responsibility to ‘look outwards’ (as well as ‘looking inwards’) in order to be a part of a wider global society in terms of its built environment.
By conceiving these places as ‘archetypes’ we open ourselves up to a whole world’s worth of precedents and ideas to use as a basis for understanding and realising the vision for our built environment, instead of feeling like we have to reinvent the wheel. Using ‘archetypes’ may also help in furthering the definitions already set up with each of the five cases for when they cross-pollinate, i.e. further defining what a ‘Community/Urban/Affordable’ place is for example. The title ‘as a manifesto for New Zealand’s built environment’ bodes well with me as by using ‘built environment‘ suggests that it’s not just an individual profession’s responsibility (e.g. architecture or infrastructure) but rather everyone who is concerned with New Zealand’s built environment.
The last part of the manifesto deals with the identification of five policy priorities, which are seen as drivers for realising the aforementioned ‘concepts’ (or archetypes). In some ways, it is hard to refute that progress with improving the quality of our built environment cannot happen without political will at a higher level and in saying this I’m curious about the proposal for a Government Architect(s) as this will need to be carefully considered and discussed within the New Zealand context and again the issue of precedents/archetypes arise. Geoffrey London’s outline on the responsibilities of CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) in the UK provides an interesting insight into this and one would presumably conclude that the formation of any Urban Design Advisory panel would have to be carefully co-ordinated with the role and responsibilities of any Government Architect(s). A criticism I have with the ‘policy priorities’ is a lack of direction/strategy for a future vision when it comes to New Zealand’s architectural education and the roles of students and academics alike. One key archetype that I feel has been left out are ‘Educational Places’ (i.e. not specifically limited architecture schools) as this is important as a long-term vision for the future of our built environment. The manifesto could be seen as more of a platform to integrate the educational and professional worlds, because they essentially work in tandem and provide mutual feedback when it comes to progressing knowledge and inquiry into our built environment. May I suggest that any policy priority the NZIA plans to implement should also involve the integration of a program to build on the existing relationships with architectural student/educational networks to progress the values of the built environment as a holistic discipline.
I ultimately think that this is very important because our students, academics and thinkers also have a role in ‘Shaping our Places’ as well as practitioners.