Linda Corkery is the national president and chair, board of directors at Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA).

Corkery is an associate professor and former program director for landscape architecture at the University of New South Wales. Prior to academia, she worked in private practice in the US, Hong Kong and Australia.

Architecture and Design spoke to Corkery about membership to associations, why a coordinated and collaborative approach is needed by the profession and new iniatives at AILA.

What do you think has been the biggest change to the AILA over the past five years?

Change has been the main game for AILA over the past four years. We’ve undergone an organisational transformation to become a not-for-profit company with a new constitution and introduced a smaller National Board replacing a large National Council.

Concurrent with this has been the professionalisation of the National Office, with a CEO –Shahana McKenzie – leading a team of experienced people who are committed to delivering outstanding member programs and services. As a result, the organisation is achieving outstanding growth in membership numbers, financial stability and improved governance, a healthy corporate sponsorship program, and is highly regarded as a premier built environment professional association.

Over 50 per cent of the AILA's board of directors are women. What challenges have you faced in boosting the number to 50 per cent?

Three of the five new AILA National Board members elected in September 2016 are women, and our CEO is a woman. It’s an outstanding team. But in fact, women have played a major role in the AILA since its beginning. Jean Verschuer from Western Australia was a member of the committee that founded the Institute in 1966. Over its 50-year history, while there have only been four female national presidents, women have been elected to national council (now the board) and served on state chapter executives at all levels.

I wouldn’t say there has been an explicit “campaign,” as such, to boost the number of women on the board to 50 pe cent. They have been involved in the organisation from the beginning, stepping up and making major contributions to the Institute and the profession.

Do you think designers nowadays appreciate membership to associations more or less?

That’s an interesting question. Certainly, 50 years ago, when AILA was founded, the organisation was staking a claim for this new profession in Australia and creating a collective professional identity for the individuals who were practicing in this field. In those early days, the Institute offered an important opportunity for networking amongst practitioners as well as promoting the profession.

For landscape architects today, membership in a professional association is significant as it promotes the best interests of the profession – in AILA’s case, landscape architecture – and provides valuable professional services for its members. The Institute also represents the profession to the public, and importantly, advocates to government at all levels on issues of importance to landscape architects.

What are you hoping to achieve in 2017?

I’ll be working closely with the board, the CEO and National Office to meet AILA’s strategic goals, which include growing the Institute’s membership, increasing the profile of the profession and supporting members’ continuing professional development. We also have a number of new initiatives underway and we’ll also be progressing the Living Cities Alliance, a national initiative established by AILA in 2016 to promote green infrastructure

investment in Australia. The Alliance has consolidated an impressive group of partners from the public, private and non-profit sectors and from allied professions and trades, all committed to working toward more sustainable, resilient and equitable cities and regions.

Our new digital communications platform, Foreground is extending the profession’s influence and increasing public awareness of the high quality and diversity of work undertaken by landscape architects across Australia. Foreground situates this work in the broader discussions and debates such as urbanisation, climate change, planning, urban design and development, sustainability and resilience.

What are some of the issues the industry is facing at the moment?

The issues and challenges facing built environment professionals – planners, architects, landscape architects, engineers – in the 21st century are complex and require coordinated and collaborative approaches by a range of professions. I’ve mentioned a few previously, such as rapid urbanisation and the increasing densities of city living that it brings; changing climate and the associated impacts that include the loss of biodiversity and essential ecosystem services; the urgency to create a more inclusive and equitable society.

AILA advocates to government – at all levels – to ensure that landscape architects are represented and actively involved in the public forums that address these issues, to influence decision making about policies and project funding. Our professional training encourages a systems thinking approach to problem solving, and so landscape architects are well positioned to play a coordinating role in planning and project delivery for major urban development and redevelopment.

Because much of the project work landscape architects undertake is in the public domain, we can’t ignore the design of accessible, equitable and inclusive urban spaces, including healthy planning for new residential areas and redevelopment of existing urban precincts.

We must attend to the requirements of both human and other species to ensure biodiversity and sustained ecosystem services. And we must find champions in government and industry we can work with to bring about the changes in legislation, policy, governance and funding required to ensure healthy and sustainable built and natural environments for now and into the future.