Architects… who…?

Last Friday I happened to catch part of the Radio New Zealand Checkpoint show, within which was a story that began thus:

Provincial Local Bodies could be stripped of their ability to issue building Consents. The Government is considering changes to the Building Act so that consents are issued from just a few main centres or even just one central hub.

Aside from the actual issue itself, and as a non-professional I can’t decide whether this is a ‘good thing’ or ‘the end of the world as we know it’, there were a couple of aspects of the piece that struck me as quite interesting. The first is properly political, rather than architectural, so let’s not dwell on it more than just noting that for a nominally right wing government, the centralisation of power that the Building Act review is suggesting here, seems a little counter-intuitive.

More interesting for this audience (perhaps?), was the way the story was put together by the RNZ journalist/editors. The three minute segment consisted of the above introduction, plus a series of opinions from those that were deemed to be most affected:

  • Horowhenua District Mayor – Brendan Duffy (who raises the fact that local councils will not be able to maintain building standards in their communities)
  • Invercargill Mayor – Tim Shadbolt (who suggests that local knowledge will be lost, and that councils will lose control, but still be liable. He raises the Leaky Building saga as an illustration of the results of the last centralised government intervention in the building industry)
  • Master Builders Federation Chief Executive – Warwick Quinn (who agrees that consistent standards and lower bureaucratic costs are desirable, but that, despite the ability for remote submission of plans, face-to-face discussions with the consenting authority are still necessary)
  • Construction Industry Council Chief Executive – Pieter Burghout (echoing the above – building practices need standardising, but consenting authorities still need to have a local presence)
  • Local Government New Zealand (who are pushing for better dialogue with the Government over any changes to the Building Act)

…not an architect or an architect’s representative to be heard. There could be a number of reasons for this, the first being that it really isn’t relevant to the architect. As mentioned above, I’m not really one to judge that, but do hope to hear from some of you in the comments – does this affect you, and if so, how?

I note that the NZIA submission does address this issue in their submission to the Department of Building and Construction made late last year. They argue:

There needs to be a National BCA [Building Consent Authority].  Consistency across BCA’s can be corrected by the proposed centralised BCA with a more direct dispute resolution path especially for alternative designs.  Local government should be removed from their building compliance control role and local BCA offices of the national agency used.  This will also correct a perceived gap in BCA competency.  Because of work load and complexity, BCA’s find it difficult to process both residential and complex buildings especially with the single overseeing official approach.  This can be corrected by placing more emphasis on self certification and peer review as a way of demonstrating compliance, better access to specialists within the BCA, and increasing the required qualifications for officers.

Basically this is an argument in support of the centralised option (see structure diagrams below), made upon the basis that architects know better than councils and should have more authority [and liability?] over their own projects. This could effectively remove all local control over buildings when national design offices are at work, for better or worse.

Anyway, given that the NZIA does have a stance on this, why are they so ‘off-the-radar’ when it comes to news items such as this?

Perhaps the Master Builders Federation, dare I say it, is perceived by ‘the media’ (and by extension the public?), as the ‘voice’ of the architectural design profession? Why are they so much more visible in this and other news stories of this nature?

Which is all a rather long and roundabout way of raising the question – is the architectural profession in this country (and others?), facing an identity crisis (i.e. do they even have a public identity)..? And if so, why..?


PS: Here are the two options that the Department of Building Construction have put forward for consideration in this document:


8 responses to “Architects… who…?”

  1. thomas Avatar

    Maybe Ath’s phone was busy when they called him.

  2. The diagrams don’t really help anyone think about the issue – could they be any worse? If the Govt is trying to sell centralisation as simpler and easier, they need a new designer to do a decent graphic for them.

  3. Beverly would be most disappointed to hear you say that architects are media invisible, as the NZIA advertising campaign “Talk to an Architect” has been running for the last few months now on billboards and magazines. Media will always go to where they know they can get a good soundbite. That’s why Russell Walden was so good – always being quoted with some slightly outrageous comment.

  4. From a personal point of view, I’m not convinced that the “talk to an Architect” campaign has had any effect on promoting talking to an architect. I’ve only ever seen one billboard design and when I was driving past it I had no idea what it was for. Only later I happened to be walking past another one (same design) and I saw the architecture connection. but even then the billboard seemed like it was designed to appeal to architects and not to the general public.

    I think that the profession of architecture does itself a lot of disservice by being quite elitist, aloof and and obscure with its symbology (e.g. not everything has to have a bloody meaning, sometimes an ornament should be just that; not every person is a moron for not appreciating a really nicely finished exposed concrete floor, etc).

    Just as well I’m training to become an architect then 😉


  5. “Just as well I’m training to become an architect then”
    Isn’t architectural training all about changing the way you perceive the world as a member of the public, and your consequent tastes, such that your output becomes “quite elitist, aloof and and obscure with its symbology”?
    I’m just kidding, kind of, but then, perhaps that was part of the early success of the Architectural Centre, that they made significant attempts to take the public with them on their crusades (think Te Aro Replanned, Demonstration House, etc). I wasn’t aware of the “Talk to an Architect” campaign (a bad sign of something – not sure whether it is just me, or the campaign itself), but looking at the campaign website doesn’t really sell me on the benefits of using an architect.
    The question then becomes, how might we do that more effectively (and perhaps also, is the focus on domestic design the best one)…?

  6. Yes, the effectiveness of the campaign has to be questioned – i’d love to know why they went with the low-key approach they did. To have a full page / full billboard advert, with hardly a building in sight, and then tiny tag words down the bottom saying talk to an architect, seemed kind of wimpy. Personally I would have gone for something with more of a building rather than more of an empty site, and have rather large letters saying TALK to an ARCHITECT!

  7. “i’d love to know why they went with the low-key approach they did.”

    Most likely because it was an architect or ‘trained professional’ who designed it and LARGE LETTERS probably interfered with the clean minimalist aesthetic they were going for.

    I agree with Tomek elitism is drilled into us from the get go. Try justifying your design project in a crit with ‘because it looks cool/good’ and watch the tutors face contort in disgust. The reality is, looking cool/good (assuming function has been sorted) is likely to be the primary criteria of the people we apparently want to talk to us.

    I’m not surprised people don’t want to talk to us, I’ve been studying for 3 years and I still only understand half of what comes out of some peoples mouth.

  8. m-d: exactly what I was implying and hoping that someone would latch onto—how do we become more effective? This is, in my mind, the overarching purpose of organisations such as the Arch Centre.

    I can understand that individual architects may not be really interested in answering that question to the same degree as the Archi Centre. It’s all a matter of motivation: awards, accolades and of course profit (nothing wrong with that, after all you’re running a business and you have family to feed) may be important to individual professionals or firms. Increasing public awareness of benefits of architecture is one of the lofty goals of the Arch Centre.

    I think that any success to this goal is largely in the approach. If we act aloof, smug and superior and use terms like “postmodern” we simply alienate people. If we appeal to the public desires, dreams, wants and of course needs then we may get somewhere. For example, people want to drive cars. They get stuck in traffic jams therefore in many people’s minds more roads is a good idea. So how do we go about letting people drive cars while minimising the impact of the motor vehicle on the city and perhaps in the process actually decreasing the desire to drive?


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