Missing the points

You may have heard about the fiasco at the Women’s World Cup on Wednesday night. No, not the Matildas losing. Rather how many of the 75,000+ fans were left stranded after the game when the trains stopped with a signal failure.

Turns out that homeless people were living in the signals box, and there may have been vandalism. Cue finger pointing in every direction. The state and the rail managers, Transport for NSW, didn’t know about the vagrants, but the local (Inner West) Council did, as well as the police. Fans were furious, TfNSW tried to deflect blame, politicians apologised, and the newspapers had a field day.

But no-one asked two key questions on the same day there was a National Cabinet housing summit: why do we have so many homeless (that a signal box is a home); and why is there no agency to look after the homeless (and their welfare)? Our PM, spruiking more homes for the middle classes to buy, ignores the issue and if pressed would say it’s a states’ problem, which it most likely is, but where are the states?

I suggest every state and territory take some of the Fed’s housing money, and start a powerful, stand-alone Agency for the Homeless, to find every one of them, and help them with support whether it be a home, or social services, or whatever they need. We did it successfully during the Covid crisis and we can do it again in the housing crisis.

That’s what a caring society does. We should not be leaving it to the not-for-profits (God bless their cotton socks) to run food distribution and washing facilities for the homeless. They can’t be the front line in this crisis.

Institutional invisibility

My criticism of the (R)AIA in last week’s column attracted some attention. A lot of attention. Dear readers may know I abhor social media, but some influential friends keep posting links (thank you, and come on down Rachel Bernstone and Philip Thalis, amongst many). And Bernstone, the most authorative voice on marketing for design and architecture in Australia, tells me her posting of my rant had the most re-posts ever.

I don’t want to ‘blow it up’, and I don’t want to quit. I just want a decent voice that stands up for architects.

Here’s two examples of our sidelining. Last week, the WA Planning Minister John Carey, when asked about changes to recent planning laws, said: “I respect the profession of architects. But I have to say this – who am I going to listen to?” and then went on to say he was listening to the HIA, the UDIA, the Property Council and individual building companies; but not architects, the one profession turning planning laws into workable, feasible designs.

Three weeks ago the developers lobby, the Urban Taskforce, said architects have nothing to contribute on housing feasibility. When I pulled them up on that, they turned my criticism into a further boast of their power. We are effectively invisible, or worse, to the public, lobby groups and politicians.

No wonder, when our peak organisation has created an aura of architects as hand-maidens to the mega-rich. All the while the vast majority of architects (and not necessarily members) work on a completely different level of limited budgets and difficult briefs.

I was asking for changes. Our Institute should hire someone for advice on how to effectively market the real profession. And I have a suggestion.

Green-papering and brown outcomes

One of the ironies of the revamping of Sydney’s Darling Harbour was that the really good buildings (Philip Cox’s Exhibition Centre and John Andrews’ Convention Centre) were demolished whilst Harbourside, the abominable ugly duckling, survived. Like a cockroach in a nuclear blast. But at last that’s all about to change.

Hassell and Snøhetta won a competition to replace it, with a low building and a tower, for developer Mirvac (image above). The published images of the final design, now under construction, highlight the very green roof, rather than the lower building on which it sits, or the tower. This highlights the trend of green-papering, coving the surfaces with ‘plants to enhance’.

Which prompts a bit of a Mea Culpa. I’ve been a big advocate for green roofs and walls, with their multiple sustainable possibilities of urban cooling, food growth and enjoyable spaces. Together with landscape architect Jim Osborne, I even wrote the original green roofs and green walls manual for the City of Sydney (and a variation for several other councils).

But I now have two reservations: one being green-papering (although a closer inspection of the design reveals that the Darling Harbour scheme is very good), and the other is the lack of maintenance after they are approved and installed. On several housing schemes we designed some years ago the green roofs have been abandoned by the body corporates, and the net effect is almost worse than a plain roof.

One remedy: ensure that there are enforceable maintenance plans. Public buildings like Darling Harbour will self-regulate to ensure the garden is maintained, but for smaller private buildings, where the roof was green-papered to achieve approval, there needs to be some mechanism to ensure the benefits go on forever.

Bookends: Homes don’t fix homelessness

Fixing homelessness is so much more than giving a home to a homeless person. Would that it was so easy. We need to look behind to the reasons a person is sleeping rough, or in a car, or sofa surfing. Only then can we appreciate the complexity and the need for a specialist agency to address the issue. In Australia 1 in 200, or 132,000 people are homeless, and on average 420+ people die homeless each year, more than a third of vehicle fatalities, and look at the effort we put in there.

Signs off: Homes or Home Loans

Maybe the sign should say Home Loans, rather than Home, which is what it appears to be temporarily.

Tone Wheeler is an architect / the views expressed are his.

A&D Another Thing, 18 August 2023 (week 33)

Long columns are Tone on Tuesday, short shots every Friday in A&D Another Thing.

You can contact TW at [email protected]