So here we are at the close of 2016 and I am challenged to choose a single theme that sums up what was a truly eventful year for the Australian building design industry.

One that immediately springs to mind is timber construction, and you only have to look at the increased number and height of buildings created from engineered timber in 2016 to see that it’s certainly been a big year for wood.

Prefabrication also garnered a lot of attention in 2016, proven by the immense growth of Australia’s two major prefab conferences hosted in Melbourne and Sydney, as well as the growing amount of government-funded prefab research centres popping up around the country.

Having said that, the scale change caused by both of these probably can’t be considered profound enough to make 2016 ‘the year of timber construction’, or the ‘year of prefab’. Perhaps their time will come in 2017? 

Housing supply, affordability and living standards certainly sparked the most debate within the industry in 2016, and in some senses could be called a hangover from years gone by. In Melbourne for example, decades of poorly designed apartment buildings and a growing city population caused the Victorian government to step in and take control of the type, scale and design of the housing being built in the metropolitan. In December, it will release a set of apartment design standards, years in the making, specifically to improve the quality of apartments in the city.

Western Australia is tipped to do the same next year, and New South Wales, who already has standards for multi-residential buildings above two-storeys, also recently announced that it will go further by creating a design guide for middle-density low-rise housing, in a bid generate a higher quality spread of housing options for the state.

The major point to all of these policies is the facilitating of better housing outcomes through quality design that is measureable and assessable for planning authorities. And of course, through their considerable involvement in the consultation processes and unprecedented knowledge of what constitutes quality, the design sector and its industry bodies have been paramount to this.

So while there was a few examples in 2016 where profit trumped quality in development–the loss of of public space to a skyscraper casino at Barangaroo in Sydney is one—it seems to me that the major theme for 2016 was the increasing influence of ‘design thinking’ on large scale developments and government policy.

All of that was probably just a long winded way to say that 2016 marked an important year for the building design industry in terms of the impact it had on Australian built environment, and will continue to have as a result of its influence of government planning policies.

With an even higher amount of development expected next year, we can only hope that design thinking plays as much a part of 2017 as it did in 2016.

I for one look forward to keeping you all informed on that when we return next year.