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    Architects and building designers respond to leaked new Victorian building standards

    Nathan Johnson

    Australian Institute of Architects’ (AIA) National President David Karotkin, the President of the Building Designers Association of Victoria (BDAV), Michael O’Sullivan and Ian Bassett from Building Designers Australia BDA have responded to the drama caused by the leak of confidential draft apartment design standards from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA).

    Like the responses from Steven Kennedy, President of the Association of Consulting Architects Australia (ACA) and President of the AIA Victorian Chapter, Peter Malatt, Karotkin has welcomed the idea of a new apartment standard for Victoria, standards he hopes are similar to NSW’s SEPP65 model.

    “The Australian Institute of Architects (Institute) has not seen the OVGA draft standards document so are not privy to its details,” Karotkin said.

    “We are aware that the proposed standards are based on NSW Residential Flat Code which form part of their SEPP65 framework.”

    “The Institute supports the SEPP65 model and calls for similar planning legislation to be implemented in all jurisdictions.”

    BDAV President, O’Sullivan, also weighed in on the debate but unlike the architect commentators, he believes the Victorian standards will not mirror the SEPP65 standards which stipulate all apartment buildings be designed by an architect.

    O’Sullivan (pictured) said:

    “As far as the BDAV is concerned, the media that has been alluding to the fact that the Victorian Standards will be similar to NSW’s SEPP65, which stipulates that only architects can design apartment buildings, is purely conjecture.”

    “As building designers, we are confident that the Victorian Government will not implement twelve year old NSW tailored legislation, and will develop their own guidelines in consultation with industry, that truly reflects the progressive nature of registration of building practitioners in Victoria.”

    Immediate Past President and Business Manager of BDA, Ian Bassett agreed with O’Sullivan but says that while NSW's SEPP65 standards do stipulate that an architect must design a residential flat building (over three stories and included four units); there are ways for building designers to continue building SEPP65 residences.

    “We introduced a new program called “Built Works Program (BWP) of Assessment which meant that building designers who had done that type of work could use them as an assessment of their competence,” Bassett explained.

    “They could then become an architect and build SEPP65 buildings.”

    Although he does believe that building designers shouldn’t have to become an architect to build that type of project, and as a member of the SEPP65 review program it is something that he will be lobbying to have changed.

    “I think quite frankly a lot of architects should be assessed for competency to do that work as well.”

    O’Sullivan does however agree with AIA representatives who suggest that the OGVA consultation process should include industry bodies. He also mentioned that the BDAV would look forward to being involved in such a process.

    The response from AIA National President Karotkin more specifically addressed concerns from property developers and construction industry bodies that are circulating in Australian media. Such concerns, like those in the Australian Financial Review, have emphasised that imposing design standards will negatively impact Victoria’s property market, and that such standards should be dictated by market forces.

    “In reality, developers are motivated by profit not affordability.  They seek to build as cheaply as possible and to sell for as much as possible.  Fair enough,” said Karotkin in response.

    “That is why regulation of minimum standards is essential to protect the interests of occupants now and into the future, long after the developers have taken their profits and moved on.”

    Much like AIA Victorian President Malatt, who believes the development of apartments in Melbourne have been left in the hands of developers for far too long, Karotkin says regulations are required to immediately address the issue of profit over housing legacy. 

    “The current high demand for dwellings skews market forces in favour of developers seeking quick profits, so controls are required now more than ever to ensure we do not end up with a poor housing legacy.”

    Following the AFR report, Architecture & Design interviewed Tom Alves, senior advisor from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA) who said that the journalist, Larry Schlesinger, had misrepresented the OGVA drafting standards that had been leaked.

    Alves said: “The documents that were unfortunately leaked were nowhere near finalised and the report misrepresented the purpose of the OVGA development."

    “The standards, unlike what has been reported in the press, aren’t just about apartment sizes, they also respond to a worrying precedent that is being set in Melbourne in which buildings are being designed and built with a severe lack of amenity.”

    Schlesinger, however, has hit back at Alves’ claims and the earlier Architecture and Design report, claiming from his Twitter account that Alves’ assertions were nonsense and that the OVGA were under fire from the planning minister.

    “That’s nonsense! They [sic] under fire from the planning minister for the leak”. 

    Schlesinger also noted on Twitter that the leak was “mischievous” and not from the OVGA, but rather from an unhappy practitioner.

    Image: Twitter

     

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