These days, when we think of architecture on television, we mainly think of programs such as The Block where the format runs similar to reality television. Either that, or hard-core architectural documentaries designed for those with a particular set of esoteric industry knowledge.
Set to hit Australian screens in July 2017, Australia by Design is created to be a middle-ground between these two extremes of architectural viewing. Not only is it different by virtue of its ‘accessible’ yet expert approach to architecture, but as the first time government architecture has been shown on Australian television, it is also unprecedented in terms of its subject matter.
Australian architect and registrar of the NSW Architects Registration Board, Tim Horton, has been announced as the host of the program, which will air on Channel Ten from July to September this year. He says the program is a real opportunity for government architects to “really step into the public”, which is “important when we’re talking about the need to make architecture more accessible.”
“What’s powering the show is different,” he claims.
The series will contain nine episodes, and showcase a total of eighty projects. The ‘theme’ of each episode will be the state that’s featured; over the course of the series, every state and territory will be represented.
According to Horton, this format will result in a broad cross-section of building styles across a broad cross-section of the country.
“What you get from that [format] is, taking New South Wales [as an example], you get the tight, inner-city terrace; you get the timber cottage; you end up seeing a big cross-section throughout each state.
“[There will be] a couple of office buildings and other buildings, but [the focus is] largely on the diversity of our homes with the odd wildcard that shows something about buildings that are different; that are [either] radically sustainable or radically innovative.”
The final episode of Australia by Design will be a round-up episode of the best projects featured, based on the judges’ decisions.
Across states and territories, evaluation of projects will follow the same rules. The seven judging criteria looked at by the jury will include concept (the project’s core ideas), relationship to context (both new and existing conditions), program resolution (functional performance based on client aspirations), interaction of allied disciplines (contributions of engineers, landscape architects, etc.), cost-value outcome (effectiveness of budget decisions), and response to client and user needs (benefits to the client, the project’s users, and the broader community).
Importantly, sustainability will also form part of the evaluation criteria. Each project will be assessed based on its benefit to the environment as expressed through its design.
Despite the formality of the judging criteria, Horton says that the program aims to make architecture more accessible. Rather than a show made up of architects talking about architecture, the jury will draw from across different industries and levels of expertise. He says that this is important for the show’s end goal of making architecture more accessible to the general public.
“Importantly, the jury is not [made up of] architects,” says Horton. “It’s drawing from across industry. A lawyer, a builder, a landscape architect – yes, you [will] see architecture discussed and dissected by architects, but also by those who are simply interested in architecture.
“We’ve collected [a lot of] industry leaders. That can [mean] people who understand how things go together, through to other professionals who work with architects, through to really witty lawyers. The strength [of the jury] lies in its expertise and diversity.
“In some ways, [the show’s] format is cute,” he adds. “There’s a lot of fun in the way the countdown works. We want to talk about design but we don’t want it to be a PhD. Neither do we want it to be renovation mumble. This show has standards – it is trying to treat the Australian public like the adults they are.”
The show is slated to air on Saturday afternoons between July and September on Channel Ten. The time slot and channel were important considerations when thinking about how to make Australia by Design an ‘accessible’ program. Horton says the show’s home will help to capture “refugees from afternoon sport”.
“We’re targeting [the] design-engaged, and a large portion of the Australian public that loves design but doesn’t [connect with the current conversation].”
Australia by Design comes at a time when the housing affordability conversation is more prominent than ever, and particularly in Australia’s capital cities. In this climate, architecture is often seen as a luxury only accessible to the ultra-rich. Architecture-designed residences seem to sit so far above ordinary citizens’ experiences and aspirations as to render it unapproachable.
Again, Horton says he hopes Australia by Design acts as a door into the realm of architect-designed buildings. He believes the program will show that architecture is not just about long driveways and sandstone walls, but that it can also be about living more efficiently and sustainably.
“The show is arriving [as] everyone’s talking about housing, but through the lenses of affordability or commodity,” says Horton. “These are all abstract [ideas] until you walk inside – a focus on design ingenuity and more with less, and the importance of designing for the climate you’re in.
“The better you design, the less the cost on heating, cooling, and the rest. We’re finding that it’s a return to the basics, and the nice thing is, good design is about the simple. [It’s about] designing for the climate, what you have, and what you can afford.
“Sustainability forms a huge part of [the show] in the way that the jury talks about it. It’s not a jury that is impressed by luxury or grandiosity. [They’re impressed by] clever moves that are affordable and design common sense.
“What we end up with is this incredible breadth of architectural capacity from coast to coast and of all levels of affordability.”
Alongside Tim Horton, ACT government architect Catherine Townsend, NSW government architect Peter Poulet, Victorian government architect Jill Garner, Queensland government architect Malcolm Middleton, and SA associate government architect Nick Tridente will act as program presenters for their respective states.
You can watch the trailer for Australia by Design below: