In September 2013 news broke that a new alliance had formed between the Building Designers Association of Queensland (BDAQ) and the Building Designers Association of Victoria (BDAV)—a relationship that promised to strengthen the profession’s standards and legitimacy across Australia.

The National Alliance of Building Designers (NABD) then grew to encompass the associations of Western Australia and South Australia in March and April of 2014 before it was announced in July that the Building Designers of the Northern Territory had joined the alliance and that the co-op would be henceforth known as The National Association of Building Designers .

But besides the membership drive and news of its name change, the NABD had remained relatively quiet throughout 2014, that is, until the recent success of its inaugural National Building Design Awards program which saw Grand Design’s Kevin McLeod as host and a mass of projects awarded.

National President of the NABD Michael O’Sullivan explains that although the association endeavours to become a strong national voice, the organisation is built on the requisite of state autonomy for the aligned associations so a lot of the issues circulating the national press that warrant a building designers point of view - such as those on planning policies - are best addressed by their respective state authorities.

When speaking with Architecture & Design , O’Sullivan did however highlight some of the movements planned for the NABD as a national entity, most of which are centred on lobbying state governments to legislate building designers licencing systems. From there, he explains, education and professional standards can develop and achieve continuity across the states.

Winner of the 2014 NABD National Building Design Awards, Gerard Smith Design - River House. Image: Paul Smith Photography.


Similar to concerns voiced by other building designers , the implementation of NSW’s 2002 State Environment Planning Policy no. 65 (SEPP 65) was raised by O’Sullivan, lamented as a missed opportunity for building designers to form a legitimate and collective voice on planning issues.

SEPP 65 recognises that apartment buildings of a particular size, scale and longevity are a matter of public interest. Its guiding document – The Residential Flat Design Code, has since become the rubric for councils, planners, developers and architects to consider when approving or designing residential buildings above three storeys. Unfortunately for building designers in NSW, it also mandates that an architect must preside over the design.

“SEPP65 is an example where because building designers have had poor representation their voice was not heard or considered, which is not what we want to see,” he said.

“If that had been approached and the manner dealt with some time ago in NSW, building designers wouldn’t be putting out the spot-fires in their states nationwide.”

O’Sullivan explained that building designers were not properly consulted in development of the SEPP65 policy, but it is a great example for why the association formed and is one that informs the key objective at the table for NABD committee meetings.


O’Sullivan suggests that the NABD are not seeking an encompassing national licencing system for Australian building designers per se, but rather they are working together to get registration at a state government level and within the structures of the state building designer associations.

“First thing is that we are assisting the other states get registration and that is what is discussed at the national conference meetings. We lend our expertise to the states that aren’t registered and advise them on how to lobby government etc,” said O’Sullivan.

“The future is that we seek all of the states in the national alliance registered and then the further conversation will go into the education process and how we can guide that process so that we can have some sort of overarching quality of education.”

O’Sullivan believes this will save building designers in other states from a SEPP65 scenario and uses Victoria’s licensing system as evidence:

“In Victoria you have two scenarios for multi-storey construction, you can use an architect or you can use a registered practitioner – that is a building designer.

“And that’s the distinction in that the states that don’t have registration find it very difficult to make up a valued proposition as to why SEPP65 shouldn’t be implemented in their state.”

“The BDAV has a great relationship with the Office of Victoria Government Architect who are responsible for the future plans for a Victorian apartment standard and we have been invited to consult on the matter.”

Trevor Reitsma designed this award winning multi-residential complex in QLD, where building designers have licensing. Image: BDAQ.


From the solid base of licencing comes formal recognition, explains O’Sullivan, and from there ongoing professional development will be able to have better continuity between the states.

“QLD and Victoria have registration and both recognise the qualifications of building designers from the other state and that is something we would like to see nationally.”

“We then want to guide the education structure so that we have and overarching influence on where the young people are heading that are coming into the industry.”

“We want to make sure that the quality and trajectory of the course maintains a certain level.”

As O’Sullivan hinted, that trajectory and quality might include a two to three year course that covers everything building designers need to go out into the workforce. O’Sullivan would then prefer a mandatory three year minimum work experience before licensing is awarded.


O’Sullivan also explained that continuity encompasses communication, not just education:

“We also want to facilitate the exchange of information between the states so that no one is left in the dark and so that the best minds and expertise are at hand to address issues,” he explained.

“We will be across any discussions with government or any authority that may have a positive or negative affect on associations in other states so that we are all moving at once and upwards.”

The various state associations now meet and communicate together in the NABD committee format before making any decisions or comments. This is specifically so that something that is implemented in one state does not have a detrimental or knock on affect in another.

Once again the “SEPP65 problem” was brought up and O’Sullivan mentioned that a key objective of the NABD is to stop elements of that that piece of legislation ‘knocking-on’ into other states. The shorter term goals of licencing and education continuity are paramount to this occurring.