Possibilities for the profession
Helen Lochhead joins Naomi Stead and Justine Clark for the second session to explore the situation architecture finds itself in, the contribution the profession might make to the new future we are heading towards, and how this might occur. Click the image to watch.
– So my name is Naomi Stead, and I'm a professor and head of the Department of Architecture at Monash University. And, of course, I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands upon which we meet, Monash University operates on the lands of the people of the greater Kulin Nation. But of course, there are people here today from all across Australia and some people across the world. So we acknowledge the traditional owners of all Australian lands and waters and all First Nations people everywhere, especially in this reconciliation week in which the theme is in this together, and of course, we are in this together.
So this event ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is a collaboration between Monash Department of Architecture and Parlour. This is the second in our series ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, which looks into architecture as a profession, a discipline and a practice, and how it will be affected by the pandemic. First, these first two sessions, big picture scene setting discussions asking, where are we now? And the hope is that we'll lay the groundwork for a series of more detailed sessions later, with focused advice for particular groups. Last week was our first event, we were very fortunate to have Misty Waters as our guest speaker and the focus was really on work and workers in architecture, who is being affected and how and what can we all do.
This week, we're extremely fortunate to have Helen Lochhead as our valued guest, and the focus will be on a big picture approach to the profession as a whole to the challenges but importantly also to the opportunities that the pandemic may offer us. So now I need to talk you through some practical matters before I introduce my co-host, Justine Clark. First thing please make sure your microphone is on mute, I'm sure everybody has got that etiquette by now, but if you're willing, we would like to encourage you to please leave your camera on, because it's part of the purpose of this series is so that we can come together as a community and being able to see one another, as we think is an important part of that. It worked last week where we had 140 odd people. This week, we have got more numbers, but we hope that it will be stable, so if you're willing and if you're able, we encourage you to leave your camera on.
The format, as you know, is a kind of Q&A, it's meant to be informal but informative. Last week, what we had planned was that it would be a kind of interview on the part of, Justine and I would start with an interview and then we'd throw the questions from the floor. But in fact, the questions from the floor was so good and so immediate from the very beginning that we instead made it Q&A for the whole session, and we'd like to do that again, so I'd like to encourage everybody to please put your questions and comments in the chat, and we'll select certain questions and invite that person to make themselves visible and put their question in person.
Also, please feel free to add your observations and extend your own experiences into the chat. That happened last week and it was really fascinating and very, very valuable and that was really happening as a kind of parallel conversation, and we'd really like to encourage that. So please consider the chat to be a kind of parallel narrative, and add your comments and experiences and observations there. But because we're going to do it as a Q&A throughout, in order to keep things moving along, Justine and I have decided to frame it within four kinds of sections in order to advance the conversation. We might not get to all of the questions that show up in the chat, but the questions that you asked will help inform those topics of subsequent sessions and we're also going to try and publish a set of frequently asked questions on the Parlour website afterwards. So please bear with us and give us a little bit of time to set that up. So that's the kind of nuts and bolts of how the session will work. And I'm going to throw now to Justine Clark, to introduce more discursively what the four sections, the structure of the session will be.
– Hi, everybody. Thank you, Naomi. So as Naomi said, this is the second of our kind of overview sessions, and this week, we're turning to the broader context of the profession as a whole; what we do, how we do it and how this might change. I think we're incredibly lucky to have Helen Lochhead, to help us walk our way through all of this. I was in a meeting with Helen the other day where she said something like if we can't get something interesting out of this crisis, we're not trying hard enough. And I think that's very much the sort of direction that we want to take. A kind of proactive forward looking discussion to have the profession, in its broadest sense can actively engage in making this new future that we're going to find ourselves in, even though we don't know what it is. While we also of course, acknowledge the pain in the stress that many are under at the moment.
So Helen brings a very broad perspective to this discussion with multiple current and previous roles. She's an architect and an urbanist who combines academic and advisory roles with practice. She's the current national president of the Australian Institute of Architects and Dean of the Faculty of Built Environment at UNSW Sydney. She's had a really long career in government before moving into academia and has been involved in the inception, planning, design and delivery of complex public projects ranging from city improvements to urban regeneration, and waterfront projects, and she was also a Loeb fellow studying, I think, resilience and waterfront projects, so she might talk about that more too. Helen, I think a long term supporter of Parlour, a good friend to Parlour and a very fine advocate for women in architecture. So look, she's perfectly placed in many, many ways to help us through today's topic. So as Naomi said, we're going to sort of frame the discussion through four themes and take questions on these throughout. These are quite sort of basic themes just to sort of guide us.
So we'll start off by quickly canvassing the current situation for the profession as we did last week, when we talked about the sort of situation for employment where we'll pull our focus out to the profession as a whole.
We'll move on to thinking about the contribution that the profession can make to this changing world, and then to think about how the profession itself might change for the better as we respond to the crisis.
Then lastly, I think we'll go to what that means for us as individuals, as architects, as students, as graduates, as people involved in allied professions, what can we take forward individually? So, let's get started. I'm going to stop sharing my screen so we can see everybody. Is that working? Helen, where are we? What's it, from your kind of multi-violent perspectives, where is the professional now, what are the challenges that different sections of the profession are facing?
– Hello, can you hear me?
– Okay, so that was a good start. So, the first thing I should say is there are immediate impacts of COVID-19. There was a huge blind panic and not anyone, anywhere was not impacted. So, especially, I think, our professions are sort of like the canaries in the coal mine. If it's something's going to happen economically, it's going to have a ripple effect and it'll hit planning, design and construction first. So we're really ahead of the game, or ahead of the wave in that. So I think the impacts have been quite intense and there's been a loss of work, projects have been cancelled or put on hold, we've immediately translated from being in a studio based environment to working from home. So no area of our lives was disrupted Suddenly, children were at home working at the end of the kitchen table, partners were working at the end of the kitchen table, everyone was around the kitchen table as far as I can tell from all my zoom meetings.
So that's good, and it's bad.
It's bad in the sense there's an uncertainty in terms of work security, in terms of ongoing work. If you're an employer, you're worried about whether you can keep people employed. If you're an employed person, you're wondering whether you're going to have a job tomorrow, It's particularly bad for students and part timers, because they're the first ones to be hit and then often affects women.
But on the on the flip side, we've also seen extraordinary wonderful things of people coming together, of family spending time together, of absolutely being able to quickly and agilely adapt to working from home under quite extreme circumstances of having to pivot on a pin. I've seen in my own environment at the university, where we had already commenced term one, and our staff had to, within one week, convert all the teaching online, it didn't even have a hiatus or breathing space between when they had to do it. So, and it was possible, so I think the silver lining for this dark cloud is we're always heard that message, or we're always told that message, that trying to get behavioural change is a very slow, torturous task, and in fact, what we're saying is people can adapt quickly and they can do what is required and on the spin of dial. So I think it's a very good omen for what's possible in the future because of the agility in which we responded and adapted in a time which was absolutely crucial to change.
When people have an imperative, they can innovate, they can adapt, they can be agile, they can be socially responsible, community focused, and all come together. I think there's some wonderful takeaways from that. I mean, in terms of what the institute's done to support, it’s members, we've put Acumen available freely, and especially in terms of mental health, we've done lean in sessions, helping people through health and well-being, how to adapt it for them in a remote workforce. We've put in measures to help people through JobKeeper and JobSeeker and other support in terms of fee relief to our members. So there's sort of very tactical and immediate things that we can do as an institute. Similarly, in my own work environment, we've done everything to actually keep people on board to actually change workloads so that we can support them to give financial assistance to students. So I think every business everywhere, whatever sector you're in, is doing whatever is required to keep people on track and engaged in a most positive and constructive way.
Not withstanding that, I do think there're going to be winners and losers down the track, if we don't change the paradigm. We will never go back to business as usual, and this is a wake up call, that this is the time to change and to change in the most constructive and positive way. So we've seen for example, globally a huge decrease in pollution. We've seen, fish come back to and dolphins in Venice canal. I'm not sure about that, but that's what I believe. But I know in my own neighbourhood, the water is cleaner, the air is cleaner. The birds are back, I can hear birds instead of traffic. And now I'm hearing traffic instead of birds already, because everyone's gone to privatised transport as opposed to public transport. So we can see how if we can spin quickly this way, we can also flick back very immediately and easily as well.
So I think it's incumbent on all of us to actually say, what can we shift? What do we need to take forward and what's okay go back? What can we can maintain as BAU? But where can we actually really pivot forward in the most constructive and creative and innovative ways which going to put us all professionally and personally and socially, in a much better place than we are today?
– Yeah, I've been having, I suppose quite a few conversations with practices who are thinking along those terms. So what do we take that's been, who also, as you said, been really surprised at how quickly the people have adapted and how viable the whole thing's been when they would have thought it wasn't, and try now working out what do we take with us from this change as we move forward? I think that's incredibly productive. So I think we definitely need to think about that as a profession as a whole as well. And how do we use this to locate the profession in a better position rather than, just keep cutting fees or something as a way to kind of survive so.
– Well, I think, I mean, I think we have to kind of, we have to look at the dark side, we have to look at what people's worst behaviours will be or worse most desperate behaviours will be, so we can actually plan for what we need to do. Because it's a bit like having someone who's written, planning controls or development controls, and then the developers always get around them and you go, like, "how did that happen?" Because you weren't thinking of the imperative of others. And I do think there will be huge fee cutting. Sorry?
– [Clark] I think that that was a glitch.
– All right, yeah, I think there will be fierce fee competition, and it'll be a race to the bottom, if that's the way we go. I mean, we've already seen it for a number of years, but it really has not served the profession well. We're our own worst enemies in terms of holding the line, and so there will be fee competition. So how do we actually look at a different paradigm, where we actually have a more sustainable, robust professional base, other than just cutting out of the competition. But it will be across all sectors, will be across planning, will be across development and across construction, and so some, there will be collateral damage.
And so I think people who will survive post COVID will be the ones who actually think differently about business models, and practice paradigms and take away a lot of the good aspects of what's possible. I do think, offices will not have big office spaces. I mean, I know form, I was on a global telco with all these presidents from around the world, in different countries, and people are saying, we're already not renewing our lease on our downtown space, we're already thinking about how we can actually just institute flexible work practices, it's worked really well for us.
I know on the flipside, many have said it's not worked well, because of the way they operate. Well because they haven't actually had that agility within their structure in the first place. But those who've got that agility will be able to adapt quickly. So they'll be able to reduce their overheads, and so therefore, they're going to be more competitive and they're actually more digitally savvy and so they'll be able to pivot much more quickly. I think in this time, you cannot ignore the power of digital technology and digital technology is a friend, we're all doing this, we're all coming together I mean, not alone, we don't want any more screen time in our lives. It's enabled us to come together in an incredibly democratic way, in all different ways. I think even, I was talking to students, introverted students can have a voice because they can use the chat. They're not at the back of the room or the back of the class, everyone's equal.
So it's a real leveller in terms of having a voice and having a seat at the table. So, but it also enables us to harness global talent. I can have a discussion around the table with people from all around the world about what's happening globally, will be that I had to get up at four o'clock in the morning to do it, but I did, and I was incredibly insightful in terms of sharing knowledge. If you think about global 24/7 practices, I know, one of my son's works in a global practice, but none of them are going back till next year. They're all working interactively. And so the dial shifts, those who are pretty much analogue and disconnected and have traditional practices will probably be left behind. And that's happened, not only I'm thinking about all the recessions that I've lived through when I first finished university everyone was a taxi driver or went into theatre or film or anything else other than architecture. Then there was Black Friday in the late 80s when we came back to Australia from overseas and couldn't afford anything, 'cause it was just… there was no, yeah, it was a terrible time, then we've had the GFC and now we've got this.
My lifespan is long enough to know that this happens, and things get worse before they get better, but then things do get better. And we just need to make sure we don't do this and this and this, but we do this and this and this, and we keep on learning and improving and innovating along the way. I guess my biggest fear is that I think technology is absolutely important, because people will be able to redefine their capabilities and really span new networks and adapt and collaborate with people virtually, in ways which they're beginning to do but have been expedited by this experience. And we'll probably look at more of a gig economy sort of version of practice where you focus less on full projects or more on district tasks, and people do different parts so that I think we might even be looking in terms of construction and we're looking at local supply chains and more just in time fabrication and manufacturing, more sustainable and ethical provenance. So that we'll be able to control because we're not relying on China to provide everything, or cheaper markets to provide everything because we can also see the downsides of having the supply chains interrupted.
So I think there's lots of possibilities for those people who're going to be savvy and ready to take up different modes of practice. I do worry, and I've seen it already, but women are the ones who've taken the brunt of teaching from home. You know, I know in my own environment, women are the ones who've chosen to take reduced working hours, they're often the ones who are not on tenure, or they're sessional staff, or early career researchers, the ones who are immediately impacted and I think if that's an outcome of this, we have a setback the cause for gender equity. So again, you have to think of the worst case scenario, you have to think of the best aspects of flexibility and work life balance, but you also you also have to think of the worst part case of that and what that could mean in terms of people having a 24/7 office at home and always being on tap, and never being able to balance those imperatives in this very perfectionistic, calling, exploitative, intense environment that we have in architecture. So, yeah, yeah, anyway.
– Helen, we've got some very lively conversation and some great questions coming through in the chat. I'm going to go back in time a little bit to an early one from Chiara Paolini. Chiara, would you like to unmute yourself and ask your question in person.
– I can’t actually see the chat, so let me see if I can see--
– [Chiara] Hello. Yeah, I'm here. Hi Helen, my question was regarding, you were talking about at the beginning about sustainability, and what the architects involvement. I was just wondering in terms of like retrofitting, pseudo energy bills of new houses of new environments, what's the architects institute doing in order to push any legislations, any billing that we can be, us architects, be involved in like reconstruct these. Or like, being more in like zero energy retrofitting, so that there's more jobs being created? Or something related to that?
– Yeah, thanks. That's a really great question. I would have to say, work has been done on a number of fronts. So someone's just popped up join Architects Declare. Well, I would just like to say that no action happens through individual action and happens through collective action. And that is not just all of us coming together, but it's also groups of people coming together. So Architects Declare, and the Institute of Architects, and Planning Institute, and the Institute of Landscape Architects and Engineering Australia.
All of these come together and I've may convened a peak body round table in Canberra just a few months ago, actually, I think it must have been pre COVID because I flew there, but we talked about actually working collectively and then you represent tens of thousands of people having a voice. And this was really on the back of the bushfires, but the agenda was really, this is just again, it’s a bit like COVID, it's really an imperative which pushes the agenda forward. And we need to be mindful of that opportunity. So obviously, in our representations to government on the bushfires, on Development of Regional Australia, on the innovation task force, I attended a senate committee hearing yesterday, in our own policies, we've got a new Climate and Sustainability Task Force that we've convened at the Institute of Architects with a couple of key drivers from Architects Declare as members at that task force as well as academics and people from government and industry, to actually look at what are all the things and measures that we can take to get that agenda first and foremost in mind.
So what are some of the agendas that we need to think about? First of all, we need to get our own house in order. As architects and practitioners, we need to walk the talk. So we can't live in highly consumptive or work in highly consumptive environments. We need to look at our own energy uses, our own patterns of work, our own waste travel patterns, the rest of it. So I mean, a very baseline we'd already stopped face to face meetings at the Institute of Architects except for key moments in time just to reduce our carbon footprint. I didn't attend, the RIBA Gold Medal this year because I didn't believe that was a carbon footprint I wanted to actually sustain as part of that journey. So we are doing that sort of thing, we're getting our own house in order and we want to sent in place a framework to enable our members to actually get their own house in order as well.
The second thing is we need to actually advocate and lobby government, and so we need to talk about what policy measures and what policy levers, procurement levers that government need to take to ensure that we get not only good practice, but best practice demanded through procurement. So again, the Senate committee hearing yesterday, I've talked about the opportunity of stimulus to actually entrench best practice and we talked about examples in other countries and they were interested hear about that.
So and the third thing we have to do is educate consumers and consume public and raise expectations about what's required as an informed consumer, as an informed client and market that. So I think which all of these things are part of a broader portfolio. But when we do present to committees, and you mentioned retrofit in the beginning, we talked about, in stimulus it's not just big projects, it's smaller projects, which impact and improve the wellbeing of all communities. And simple things like that are retrofit, improving the performance and the energy consumption of buildings, retrofitting them so that they perform better. So we go from the very basic to the policy shifts and everything in between. So, does that answer your question?
– So Helen, I'm just scrolling through this. Naomi's probably got some she wants to go to but there are quite a few people here saying, how do we get a seat at the table? So I think there's a very, I'm sure you know too, a very strong desire in the profession to be involved and to be active in kind of helping shape policy, to be active and trying to shape the kind of bigger picture and I think there's often a feeling that people don't quite know how to get there. People don't know how to end up, either as individuals or as organisations. So I guess also drawing on your experience in government, how do we make sure people, that our professions, are at that table and be heard early enough, not kind of whinging later?
– Yeah, I'm just sort of catching a few headlines here. But I think actually often, architects are their own worst enemies, we're incredibly individualistic, creative, out of the box thinkers, but we're not great colleagues and so we're very, you know, we have a very strong culture of critique, we're perfectionistic. And for others often in different forums, you see that's seen as being really negative, when in fact, we see that as part of robust, continuous improvement.
So just sitting at the table, AILA’s is not so different from us PIA is a little bit more different, Engineers Australia's completely different, but they're like an incredibly powerful body and you can see they work together, they work like a machine, and they move in the same direction, once they decide this is what we need to do, they have an incredible agency, which I find our profession doesn't…. lacks. We have quite a few splinter groups, we have Architecture Association, we have Architects Declare, we have ACA, we know we have all these sorts of groups which all in themselves have a reason for being, but we would be so much more powerful if we were all under one roof or we formed a consortium. And similarly with the Government Architects Network, people talk about, "oh, design review is a problem we need to get up, design review, so we can get projects through and cut red tape” and you go wait a minute, these people are our friends, they're actually getting design at the table, if we don't have anyone talking about design within government and mandating that and enforcing it basically, designers will not have a role at all.
So all of these stakeholders, whether they're the Government Architects Network of Australia or architects working in government, or ACA or Architects Declare or AILA or PIA , they all are our friends, and unless we work in a collegial and collective way to shift paradigms and to shift policy, we will not have a seat at the table. Because we are actually quite a small professional footprint and compared to other professions and builders and property developers. So, we have to sort of work with those who can support us to achieve our goals.
– And I think there's a start. I mean, I know last year, I went to a couple of meetings that Kate Doyle from the AACA initiated, again, trying to get all the kind of key bodies from across education and the profession into the same room and talking about what was needed in relation to research. And I'd been to one she initiated a couple of years ago too, but that was the first time I'd ever sat, that I was aware, that those people had all been in the same room talking about sharing knowledge and collaborating and working together and I think trying to get those mechanisms going where, as you say, those various organisations are building on each other's strengths rather than kind of jockeying for position.
– Yeah, yeah exactly.
– Too much jockeying goes on.
– Exactly, there's too much jockeying, and not enough oxygen for everyone to do that we need to actually be much more. Yeah, we just have to, we need to work together. I mean, similarly, I work among the deans of the built environment, and again, we're trying to ensure that we support each other collectively because, I mean, I was just going through names of faculties a Built Environment and more of them in Australia have the word engineering in their name, then they have design, or architecture is still number one, but built, I think engineering precedes built environment, and it precedes design. That says a lot about our diminishing position in the world, so unless we, pull together and lobby collectively, we can't do it. No one can do it, no one, no one can do it individually, yeah.
– Helen, I wonder if I might ask you a question of my own, and you've alluded to this already, and in fact there's been a lot of discussion particularly around bushfire, but of course, at the moment, we're in a very kind of high adrenaline urgent crisis with the pandemic, but in some ways, it's distracted attention from the more serious but much more slow and inexorable crisis, which is, of course, climate change. And, as you said earlier the profession, and the world has proven that it can spin on a dime when it has to, but I guess the thing that many of us are worried about is that it won't spin on a dime in response to climate change as it needs to so urgently. I mean, how do you see these two crises intersecting?
– I think they're one, it's funny, this is my anecdotal takeaway, which is not based on evidence or anything. But it's like mother nature's been kind of telling us all these things for years, sort of there's a bushfire here, there's a storm event there, massive floods here, and famine there, droughts, and nothing really changes because it's somewhere else, it doesn't affect us personally. And so she came out and she said, "Well I've tried this, I’ve tired climate change, is slow moving crisis, just with a bit of affecting everybody just hasn't really cut it, so I think we'll just have to go global”. And so the global pandemic has affected everyone no matter where they come from, the First World, the Second World, the Third World. Big economies, small economies, emerging economies, fledgling countries, floundering, in a very equitable, in fact, not so... a very inequitable way, like, New York, and London, and Italy and all these places, who probably thought they're immune to these sorts of catastrophes, this sort of stuff happens to other people, it doesn't happen to us.
Case in point, the United States, completely blind to what's happened. And so, I think it had to take a global pandemic. And I mean, a precipitous event not like climate change has been slow moving, you have needed something, like a shot in the face or shot in the arm to actually make us wake up.
But I do think, it's like what Justine was saying, if you waste a crisis, you won't… we deserve what we get basically. And I do think people do not innovate without an imperative. And we, in our culture in Australia, have been very comfortable and have not needed to innovate the way other cultures have innovated. If you just got to India and just keep innovating every single day of their lives, you see extraordinary creativity and ability to be adaptive and agile. So, I'd like to think we catch some of that, and we also catch the political agency required to enact it at a bigger scale than our own individual lives.
I think people will engage at an individual level, we all do it in our own small ways. Whether it's riding a bicycle, or using green energy or solars or whatever or managing our waste, everyone can do it individually, but to actually shift that to a public policy debate and demanded it of our politicians and industry, we have to, you know raise the numbers, get people moving.
– There's quite an interesting question from Cristina Garduno Freeman. Cristy, wan to ask your question?
– Oh, hi Helen, how are you?
– Look, one of the observations, I suppose, coming out of the conversation and also in I guess the changes that we've had to make, is whether the pandemic actually highlights the value of architecture is as much a behavioural value as material value. And I wonder whether you could talk to that a little bit.
– Can you paraphrase that a little bit more? I'm just--
– Yeah, so, I guess the idea that architecture is about constructing spaces in a material way is one way of considering what architecture might be perceived as, but that architecture is also about finding new ways of behaving and thinking about, sort of behavioural economics models around Nudge Theory. So where something actually catalyses people to make changes, and how architecture might play a role in that.
– Yeah, I think that's a really good point. I mean, I do think we've got a very bad messaging. I mean, and it's not necessarily all our fault. I think the media, if I think about the National Architecture may appear in the Boston magazine, and they always kind of get that sort of shot like that, the best angle of the building so you never really understand what it's about, or what the spaces are about, or what it's trying to do, it's always that hero shot as opposed to what we know and understand is the functional, cultural and special and environmental consequences of making good architecture.
And so, I think that, for example, people have actually nurtured home and the importance of home and people go, "oh, we're all going to go back to McMansion." But I don't think that's true, I don't think it means raw space, we need more space, because we're all going to live together in the home, it means we actually have to live, we want to live in a particular way within those environments, and therefore they have to be high quality and fit for purpose.
I think in terms of how, people say, "Oh, the demise of the downtown, no one’s going to be using downtown, how we're going to get people in lifts." Well, again, technology of touch free environments, we already have touch free taps and touch free switches and sensors, when we could move in and out of spaces. So all of these things are part of the design of the built environment. When people are thinking about everything spatially, often technological ways to actually manage some of these risks and consequences. And I think another part is that people don't realise that most of life lands in physical manifestation. So, there are physical consequences of COVID, that means we have to physically isolate.
So what are the consequences for the built environment? If we come back together, there are also consequences for the built environment.
So architects actually, absolutely crucial in responding in the longer term systemic way. I mean we've seen, for example, the positive ways, in our neighbourhoods, the way spaces used. I mean where I live, all the back lanes are completely full of kids again. Whereas like three months ago, they were completely… you just go like, "There is no one down that lane, I don’t think I’ll walk that way today." Whereas I swear last weekend, there must have been 50 kids playing in this back lane, with all their bikes and the mums and dads were out the back, standing in the garage doors, whereas before all of them would have been close.
So these are the appropriation of the public domain, and the reimagining as the public domain, has all been a consequence of COVID and we as designers, and architects, and landscape architects can all be part of reimagining the way that could be. And I do think the imagination of architects and designers to create a vision is what excites people. We need to not just talk about policy, but we also need to talk about vision and how you make a vision come into reality in people's imagination.
So that's a future that they want to buy into. Too often, I think the vision for the future is created by developers or marketing guys or photographs like that, which gives you a kind of a false reality of what people experience. So I’m not sure if that answers your question, but I do think there are heaps of opportunities. Because a lot of the solutions and a lot of the “real estate, downtown real estate market is dead”, well you just reimagine it, you just have more mixed use buildings, you have commercial down flow, wherever and walks up and you can have people living above where they have a very much lower pattern of usage of lift and the low occupancy of lifts.
So there are always ways of designing a solution, a physical solution to a problem, if you get the right people at the table to actually help you do it. And that's where architects are key.
– I wonder if we might go to a question from Sarah Hobday-North. There's a couple of comments here, but I'm thinking specifically about the one about the top three things, Sarah.
– Thank you, thanks, Naomi. So yeah, the tension I think between… the public policy agenda is huge, because the world needs to know what to do. But the question is marrying up that public policy agenda that's spoken about at the top level, with all the small individual efforts that we all do. How do we all pull in the same direction? So what are the top three public policy quests and advocacy currently be made, so that perhaps the little guys can do their bit to?
– Well, I think one of the immediate ways now is that the only money being spent is going to be spent on stimulus, economic stimulus, which is going to affect us because there'll be jobs for architects and construction industry. So we need to make sure that stimulus funding is not just on big city making infrastructure projects, not withstanding they are important, but they are not going to benefit every community all around Australia. We need to have projects but small, which is maybe retrofit, urban retrofits, but small projects and I don't use the building education revolution as a fine example, but it is an example where a stimulus actually benefited every community in Australia. So it's not one or the other, it's big and small.
So you have to make a big decision that we're going to actually do economic stimulus or we're going to make a national policy, whether it's a climate action policy, or it's a procurement policy, or a design policy, and then you say, "Well, how do you roll it out?" And you have to roll it out in a very local… strategically, federal, state and local government way. And you have to do it in public and private, in the public and private sector working together.
So all these things are complex, it's both big and small. It's about the individual action, collective action. It's carrots and sticks. You have to have government, incentivizing industry to do the right thing, and you also have to have government regulating industry to do the right thing. So that both levers need to be used because sometimes incentives work fine and other times you go, "Sorry guys, you've just got to do it." And then that will shift demand, it'll shift industry and making different kinds of products, we saw how when solar was incentivised we had this huge burgeoning solar industry, as soon as they took it away, it died. I mean, and even established ones like BP Solar, died. And it was something like a 15 year old industry. And without that support, it was an export industry, it folded. So yeah, there's no one answer.
But it's working at different scales, individual and collective.
– I think that they kind of takes us through nicely to the sort of last block of things we wanted to talk about. I think we've managed to roam our way over the first three very effectively. But so what does this mean for individuals so we've got 165 people, or 164 people sitting here on this chat, who all obviously have a vast amount to say and are very keen to contribute and be active. And I know of course, there's a much vaster group of people out there. So, how do different people and groups find their agency? I think it can be quite hard to know as, I suppose as an employee, as a small practitioner, where you can find agency. And I wonder if you might have some tips as someone who's found a lot of agency in her own career.
– Yeah, look, it's interesting, isn't it? I mean, I went to university at a time where, true story, I wore bare feet to university because, that's just what you did. You know, you weren't going to conform. I lived in an autonomous house at the back of the University of Sydney and we didn't have any energy on the grid, and we collected rainwater, we built that on university land and it was okay. We demonstrated to save Wooloomooloo from high rise towers and so that sort of activism that was then taken on by labor's federation and green bands was very much firmly entrenched in us as students about your own social agency, and the importance of architects and planners and the people within the built environment to shape the cities that you want to live in.
So, for us, it was something that started at university and I think for me, it's very much in my DNA, but also you realise that as you move on through professional life, that there are different ways of achieving agency.
And sometimes it's through institutional norms, such as the Institute of Architects, because it does represent thousands of people like you.
And sometimes it's through being involved in government, like I was a consultant to government for many years and I was just, I got frustrated because you'd see projects you do just never get delivered.
So then you sort of go on the other side and you can see actually how you can steer things through, and you can make things happen within government, within the system. Equally, when working with developers, you can see how industry also has agency to lobby for their own needs and their own desires. So I think you can achieve agency in very many… and in universities, you have that sort of intellectual position, and that authority that people seek, they ask your opinion. So there are many different places you can have agency.
The key thing is to have motivation for why you're doing it and using it for the right purposes. It's not necessarily for individual gain, but for the common good and I think if that's what motivates you, you can find it wherever you work or whatever path you take, whether you work for a small single practitioner, and you work on a local school project, which I did when I was a young practitioner, with my local schools and preschools, but then you're actually… you affect your local community, you give them something that they haven't got through other resources, right through to being on large scale reviews like I'm on at the moment working on the Western Sydney Aerotropolis, which is completely mega scale planning and design and how you get strategic governance frameworks which enable good outcomes on the ground.
And these are really complex, do your head and types of thinking, but you're using the same skill sets at a different scale to achieve a common good outcome. How can we get the best outcome? How can we get a zero carbon precinct in a greenfield site? The worst place, the most difficult place, how do we shift it? So, I think, yeah, I don't think there's one answer. It's the right answer for each individual.
– But certainly, in relation to Parlour and the whole question of gender equity, we've always said, everybody has agency but we don't all have the same agency. And of course, obviously the agency that you can find changes across the course of your career and according to your context, but I think that's really important. You kind of need to need to find your leverage or whatever you want to use, wherever you can, and practice using it, practice finding opportunities and practice that. But as you say to an end, which is not just about yourself, I think that's very helpful. But I do think it's important not to just kind of sit there and go, "Oh, I can't do anything, I'm not the boss, actually."
– Yeah, no I don't believe that. I do believe every everyone has agency. Yeah, everyone has agency, you just have to find the way you can harness it, yeah.
– We're almost out of time and Justine is going to say a few words about our next event, next week. But Helen, is there anything that you really wanted to say to this group that you've not been able to say yet? What are your closing words?
– Look, I think we should be optimistic. I think this has been a time where people have felt quite desperate and that I do think there are so many silver linings from this dark cloud that one can harness and remember to sort of see that light, the light at the end of the tunnel. And that I think as creative professionals, we have so much more opportunity to influence a positive future. And we should take that and run with it. So yeah, stay positive, and find colleagues and friends and comrades who can actually help shape the best future for all of us, whether here, locally or globally. We've all got a place we can make a change.
– Fantastic, and I think a wonderful idea has emerged in the chat, perhaps led by Sue Wittenoom about co-working spaces in disused retail area. So look, I think that process is happening right here and now we just great to see.
– Yeah, that’s what I was going to say, that I hope that, at least we would like to think that Parlour provides one of those avenues in which one might find one's comrades and work together, so--
– Absolutely, yeah.
– But they were very good closing words, thank you very much, Helen. I think last time we did a clap, so we can clap again, clap across the country. Thank you, Helen.
Okay, so, we're doing another one next week of these. And we, certainly last week, there was a lot of discussion about flexible work, remote working, how we might move forward with that rather than simply return to what we've already been doing so our speaker or conversationalist next week will be Jess Murphy. Jess is a kind of change consultancy type person, but she has been facilitating the Male Champions of Change program for quite a few years now, and so she's quite familiar with what's happening in architecture, but she’s also a consultant to often the big end of town really, and is very across what's going on with rethinking workplace and flexibility in the kind of broader corporate environment. And I think that be... Sorry, my dog is here so if you hear something weird it's the dog. Anyway, I think Jess will be really very interesting in terms of discussing what we can take forward into the sort of new workplace environment both from understanding what's happening within some of architecture but also, what's happening in the people who are often architects clients, so she's a very lively speaker too, so she'll be great.
We're also finally got our Seasonal Salons happening online. We've got one happening next Thursday with Jocelyn Chiew and Josephine MacLeod. And again, thanks to Ali McFadyen and Emma Healy for making that all happen. So we've got lots of… and actually after that, we're going break everyone into zoom rooms for the evening, so you have a glass of wine, you have chat. Hopefully this is, obviously, it's nice to hang out with people. But really, it's just we want to find ways to help and build and enhance and activate our networks. And so that's… hopefully come along, hang out, have a glass of wine, get match made by Ali and me into a Zoom room and see if you can find some new friends and colleagues and comrades and make change.
I've got one more thing to say, I had a lovely phone call today from Brickworks, who have been our sponsor, I have to say, I thought everyone was going to stop sponsoring Parlour because no one's got any money, Brickworks is staying on as a Parlour sponsor, so I'm very happy and I just want to tell everyone that, and also AWS is continuing as well. So that's good news for me, you guys might not mean too much to you, but it means we can keep going. So yes, great, Naomi.
– Thank you very much Helen, that was a fantastic, really spectacularly broad ranging- your breadth of knowledge and experience in the built environment is really, we're so lucky to have you, and I think everyone here is very well aware of that. So thank you, it's been fantastic. And thank you again to our audience, or let's say our collaborators, who once again have had a very lively conversation in the chat and given us some really great questions, not all of which we've addressed. Andrew Broffman had an excellent question which we unfortunately couldn't get to, but and there are many others as well. So thank you, please, come to the next time and it's really great to see you all here virtually and we look forward to the time when we can see you again in person.