Structural failures in several multi-storey residential developments have brought the focus back on the diminishing role of architects in the quality and safety aspects of construction projects.

This, combined with poor procurement processes and a failing regulatory system has affected consumers and eroded consumer confidence, says Australian Institute of Architects NSW Chapter president Kathlyn Loseby.

Observing that the NSW State Environment Planning Policy no 65 (SEPP 65) stipulates that an architect must be responsible for the design of these buildings, Loseby says architects – through their training and professional codes – are uniquely positioned to deliver positive outcomes for end users.

In addition to having five years of professional education and a minimum of two years of practical experience, an architect has passed the Architectural Practice Examination, and been admitted to a Register of Architects managed by a state or territory Architects Registration Board. NSW requires architects to undertake formal continuing professional development to maintain registration.

Additionally, registered architects who are members of the Australian Institute of Architects must abide by a code of conduct that stipulates strict obligations to clients, the profession, colleagues, and, critically for consumer protection and community safety, the public.

Loseby explains that changed procurement practices in recent years have reduced the role of the architect from lead consultant involved throughout the project to a design consultant with minimal involvement. The emphasis on time and cost of building has come at the expense of quality and safety. 

According to Loseby, value engineering, particularly in the popular design and construct procurement model, prioritises time and cost over quality; however, these immediate cost reductions often lead to vastly more expensive maintenance and remediation, affecting the future interests of owners and renters.

The Institute is calling on government to provide better consumer protection with regard to multi-storey residential buildings.

Loseby says that the government must respond quickly and strongly to ensure the problems in the building and construction industry are addressed and consumer confidence restored. Implementing key recommendations from the Shergold Weir report and the final Opal Tower report will be an important step toward these outcomes.

The Institute has been calling for better regulation and enforcement of Australia’s building and construction industry, particularly in implementing measures that bring the regulation of other building practitioners closer in line with the standards applicable to architects.

“Regulations must also support independent and qualified certification and insurance,” says Loseby. “Certification should only be done by registered professionals qualified in the domain in which they have professional indemnity insurance, and who are trained and regularly assessed of their capabilities.

“Furthermore, the current market sees developers and builders undermining the design, documentation and site observation stages of the professional team of architects and engineers, and ‘shopping around’ to change the team and reduce fees. This erodes quality as project knowledge is lost, and the consumer loses.”

Additionally, the procurement process in building projects must prioritise quality. Therefore, design protocols need to be measured throughout the project and qualified professionals must be involved in their full capacity from start to end, including mandatory post-occupancy evaluation.

Loseby says: “Increasing quality may increase the construction costs and time, but evacuating people from an unsafe building costs substantially more and takes longer to fix – as does stakeholder confidence.

“Quality must become the top priority. We want a built environment where you can walk your children down the street, stop in a cafĂ© for an ice cream, shop for your groceries, grab a book from the library, and return home all the while feeling safe and secure.”