Elements of a recently launched Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) consumer engagement campaign are causing a stir among Victorian building designer circles, and have resulted in correspondence with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

‘Ask An Architect’ was launched by the AIA in September 2014 to provide advice and information about architecture and working with architects to those interested in buying, building, renovating or maintaining a home.

But it is a recent advertising campaign from the organisation that has seen the Building Designers Association of Victoria (BDAV) take to the ACCC and call on the AIA to immediately end the “misleading” campaign.

The ads include an image of a floret of broccoli and the words “You wouldn’t ask a butcher about broccoli, so when it comes to building and renovating, ask an architect". 

It then continues to say, "you talk to someone with the degree and the years of experience to bring it to life. An architect. Not a designer, draughtsman or your sister's husband's brother who's handy on a computer".

President of the BDAV, Alistair McDonald says the campaign is misleading and elitist and the BDAV have since had correspondence with the ACCC and the AIA.

"We're concerned that the AIA are misleading the public or the consumers saying that we're not qualified, basically trying to restrict trade for our members or registered draughtspeople generally, just to try and monopolise the market," he notes in an interview with Fairfax Media.  

"I think it's a form of elitism."

Another advertising campaign from the AIA featured on Victorian billboards. Image: Steve Rose Architect.


Although the campaign was aimed at consumers looking to carry out residential projects, the conversation in The Age turned to the debate about multi-storey building standards in Victoria and the need for policy and regulation on who can design them.

"We believe that there is insufficient protection of the public where building designers are designing multi-storey buildings without architectural qualifications," notes the AIA Victorian chapter president Peter Malatt​.

"We believe three storeys would be a good threshold. Anything over three storeys we believe should be designed by an architect.”

This mirrors Malatt’s recent feedback to the Better Apartments discussion paper from the Victorian Government which discussed the possibility for setting apartment design standards in the state of Victoria.

To that paper, Malatt says that the Institute welcomes a model similar to NSW’s State Environment Planning Policy no. 65 (SEPP65) framework that also includes a residential flat code.

“This model contains not only design guidelines, but also the requirement for design review panels; the requirement for ongoing checking that the approved design intent is being maintained through project procurement and construction and the requirement to use registered architects to design multi-storey apartment buildings,” says Malatt.

McDonald says that the BDAV also welcome the Victorian Government’s discussion paper to help improve the internal design amenity of apartments, but notes that restricting multi-storey apartment design to architects would negatively affect housing prices and ignores the fact that Victorian building designers, unlike their NSW counterparts, are formally registered by their state building authority.

 “Guidelines on who can design multi-storey residential developments in Victoria should not be solely determined by type of profession or level of qualification, rather than relevant design competency. Any restrictions of this nature would be considered a restraint of trade by Victorian building designers.”

“Building designers comprise approximately one-third of the state’s building design community. If thousands of building designers in Victoria were unable to participate and contribute to the building industry, consumers would be adversely affected.

“Severely restricting supply of design services would inevitably drive up the cost in an environment where we already have an affordability issue.

“Our belief is that any new apartment standards in Victoria should not reflect the SEPP65 policy in New South Wales, given building designers in the state are formally registered by the Victorian Building Authority and there is a robust framework in place for maintaining the state’s design standards.”