The Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA) has released its new National Standard of Competency for Architects (NSCA), which prioritises the wellbeing of First Nations peoples and sustainable practice.

The 2021 edition of the NSCA is a result of the five-yearly review into the registration processes for an Australian architect. These include the various assessments and accreditation of architecture programs. The industry body identifies the skills, knowledge and capabilities required for the general practice of architecture in Australia.

Registration is one requirement for practising as an architect in Australia. The NSCA provides the framework for the Architects Registration Board in every state and territory that enables this assessment. It also guides tertiary institutions and other providers on the pathways to registration to ensure their students are well versed before leaving these institutions.

Embedded within the practice of architecture is the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ ongoing connection and custodianship of Country, and the ethical responsibilities to the physical environment and the transition to a carbon-neutral built environment. These responsibilities are fundamental to architecture practice and have been focussed upon heavily within the 2021 NSCA.

AACA CEO Kathlyn Loseby says the 2021 NSCA is a reflection of an evolving industry that is looking to further its connection to Country.

“The practice of architecture is inherently dynamic,” she says.

“It is incumbent upon us to ensure standards of competency not only keep pace with changes across the profession but also serve as a driver for further improvement.

“We are proud that the 2021 NSCA enshrines a greater focus on more meaningful engagement with our First Nations peoples. We have a long way to go in achieving real reform and reconciliation, and we recognise that fundamental change is needed in the relationship Australia has with First Nations peoples.

“We also acknowledge that we have so much to learn from the rich history and oldest continuing cultures on earth, not least when it comes to how we care for Country.

Loseby says sustainability within the industry is a key reform amongst the standard, simply due to the climate crisis faced by the current generation.

“As Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon so famously said, ‘There can be no Plan B because there is no planet B.’ That’s why sustainability forms the other key reform contained in this update to the NSCA,” she says.

“With the built environment accounting for 36 percent of energy consumption, 38 percent of energy- related carbon emissions and 50 percent of resource consumption globally, which is expected to double in total footprint by 2060 – urgent action is required.

“Architects are at the forefront of our capacity to transform the built environment’s impact on our climate into a carbon-neutral one. The NSCA is a critical tool in this change.

“We have also taken the opportunity to streamline the NSCA while also strengthening it, moving from 70 to 60 competencies.”

Loseby extends her thanks to various stakeholders for engaging with the AACA in the review, who have assisted the body in delivering the standard that will guide the profession and the future of Australian communities.

Australian Institute of Architects CEO Julia Cambage welcomed the new NSCA saying it will ensure architects remain at the forefront of best practice.

“Safety, sustainability and human-centric design are the driving factors shaping this latest iteration of the NSCA,” she says. 

“Architects are the most highly-qualified, closely regulated profession in the building and construction sector and the 2021 NSCA provides the framework to ensure they continue to best serve Australian communities.

“I commend the AACA on their collaborative approach and thank the Institute’s First Nations Advisory Working Group and Cultural Reference Panel and the Climate Action and Sustainability Taskforce for their expert input into the review process.”

The 2021 NSCA has been developed through an 18-month-long process involving in-depth research and close engagement with stakeholders. It will be implemented progressively in three stages over 12 months.

The staged rollout will start in January 2022 for the National Program of Assessment, July 2022 for the Experienced Practitioner and Overseas Qualification Assessment, and January 2023 for Accreditation and the Architectural Practice Exam.

A copy of the 2021 NSCA is available here