Steven Kennedy’s unassuming and sustained contribution to the architectural profession over the years has seen him earn NSW’s highest architectural honour for 2014, the NSW Australian Institute of Architects President’s Prize.  

Principal of Kennedy Associates Architects and National President of the Association of Consulting Architects Australia (ACA), Kennedy was given the honour at the NSW Architecture Awards on 26 June.

“The President’s Prize this year acknowledges an individual who, while running a highly successful and award-winning practice, has made a sustained and continual contribution to the betterment of the profession in NSW over an extended period of time,” said the Jury.

“Steve Kennedy has quietly and unassumingly contributed a lot – particularly in NSW – without accolade.”

Architecture and Design spoke with Kennedy to discuss his work at the ACA, the importance of expert consultancy for public infrastructure projects and why the industry needs a singular, fair and efficient whole of government procurement methodology.

You were awarded the Presidents Prize at this year’s NSW Architecture Awards specifically for your sustained devotion to the profession. So how much of your time is actually devoted to consulting?

On average, I work between 50 and 60 hours per week including consultancy and committee work.  I usually spend the equivalent of one day per week on committee work.

However, the majority of my time still is still dedicated to running my architectural practice; it remains my core professional focus.

You helped develop the Continuing Professional Development program for the NSW chapter in 2004. What is it? How is it important to the profession?

The NSW CPD Program is the continuing education program run by the NSW Chapter of the AIA delivering ongoing education for members.  It is operated by the NSW Chapter Office and a management committee.

The program delivers a regular and varied series of lectures, seminars, talks and tours related to the practice of architecture.  It covers four core competencies; design, documentation, project management and practice management.

Architecture, like all other professions, requires continual learning and study and the CPD program is designed to cater for those needs in a structured format.

You are currently engaged in negotiating better contractual terms and procurement methods, what does this involve?  What do you see as the key requirements for the improvement of industry in these fields?

The ACA has been working with the Procurement Branch of the NSW Department of Finance and Services to address a range of issues relating to the procurement and delivery of architectural projects across all levels of government.

The work has been a collaborative process involving representatives of both government and industry.  The core issues being focussed on are; how to develop a singular, fair and efficient whole of government procurement methodology, how to provide an appropriate and consistent approach to the briefing and establishment of projects and how to create an equitable and uniform set of contractual arrangements for professional consultancies.

None of these currently exist in a whole of government format and, whilst there is a lot of goodwill and desire to see them established, getting everyone to not only be on the same page but also implement the outcomes of such a process is both slow and difficult.

But, we believe it is not only sensible from a best practice perspective but also, once in place, will be found to be both financially and organisationally beneficial for everyone.

What is really needed to achieve the outcomes everyone is looking for is much more involvement at the high end political level to ensure this is a priority in terms of government policy.

How can a good balance between innovative architecture and standardised practice be achieved efficiently?

It's not about standardised practice; it's about getting the front end of the delivery process to operate from a position of best practice.  No one is asking for anything unreasonable or, if you look at it objectively, that is not logical and sensible.  

It's about making sure that the best systems are in place to enable government to engage the best consultants to undertake projects on terms that are fair and reasonable to all.  Innovation occurs after that.

In terms of within one's own practice, everyone develops systems and practices that enable them to be efficient and to use what they have done before.

Much of the innovation we observe is due to a process of ongoing experimentation, trial and error and careful critiquing of your own and other people's work.  

What are your future plans in terms of employment and consultancy work?

Architecture is a long, slow profession. You have to remain patient and optimistic.

Despite my high level of involvement in committee and consultancy work, I have always been, and remain, a design focussed architect.  I sit on numerous design review panels and give lectures on beauty.

I intend to practice for a long time yet.

If you could choose one building to claim as your own design which would it be?

There are always three answers to this question.

  • First: every building involves collaboration, so no one can truly claim to be the sole author of a project
  • Second:  we all have buildings that we are more happy with the outcome of than others though these are not always because of their immediate visual attributes.
  • Third:  if you are still practicing then often the projects you are currently involved in should be your favourites.

We currently have some really excellent clients who are really enthusiastic about working with us and the projects we are providing them, which is fantastic. It's a very positive time for our practice.

However, whilst I have a number of projects I am very proud of, we are in the process of completing a very significant project in the Philippines where the client has been incredibly trusting of me personally and has committed a great deal of his personal resources and reputation on what I have designed.  

It has taken nearly five years of work and is about six months from completion, so at this point in time it is my current favourite.  It's also the project I am most nervous about because both his and my reputation are riding on it and if it is not a success then there is only one person on the planet everyone will look at.