The newly established Regional Architects Association calls for a concerted effort to ensure the considered and sustainable development of regional locales, in the wake of pestilence and at a time of growth.
May 18th, 2021
“At no point in modern Australian history has the role of the regional architect been more crucial than it is today,” says Virginia Wong-See of Architecture At Altitude, a founding member of the newly established Regional Architects Association (RAA).
It’s a valid point she raises. In the nineteen months since the Black Summer fires that swept the Eastern seaboard we have seen those same regions hit with flood and the pressures arising through pandemic-driven population shifts. This series of unfortunate events has made the role of architecture in the regions more crucial than ever in guiding recovery and progress with an understanding of heritage and localised desire for change.
Enter the Regional Architects Association.
Founded by a group of leading regional architects from across NSW, the RAA is an independent and driven body that serves to realise its founding members’ shared vision: to better the landscape for the profession, their clients and the communities they live in. This vision will form the crux of the RAA’s inaugural conference, which is planned to both formalise and socialise the collective’s establishment as an association, later in May.
“The challenges for regional architects are very different and the collegiate support experienced in cities is often not there. Being able to share our experiences and knowledge is extremely important, especially for the new generation of architects who are moving to these areas,” says another founding member, Katharina Hendel, co-founder of Takt Studio. “The most important role of the association is to bring people together.”
The unique challenges faced by regional architects that Hendel refers to are very much matters of immediate urgency, and quite unlike anything experienced by their city-slicking counterparts, indeed. For instance, amidst the havoc of the last 18 months, over 31,000 people left Sydney with a similar number re-locating from Melbourne. Those numbers combined with regional tourism exploding due to border closures has put enormous pressure on communities. As a result, Sarah Aldridge of Byron Bay’s SPACEstudio sees economic growth heading into gridlock. “Restaurants here are crying out for chefs though there is nowhere for them to live and it is the same for us as an architecture practice.”
Housing and construction are a driving force and indicator of economic growth with Government incentives being ramped up in the regions. “The irony is without homes to live in, people can’t relocate – resulting in business across the construction sector not being able to meet demand and the economy stalling,” says Aldridge. Meanwhile, Hendel sees the affordable housing issue is suffering bracket-creep in areas in close proximity to Sydney. “The Coal Coast—as is it known—is at capacity with house prices increasing at incredible rates. The cost of materials and trades has also risen, with availabilty an even bigger issue. How we can design and construct homes that are even remotely affordable for essential workers or middle-income earners is our biggest challenge.”
“What we have experienced through our bushfire recovery work in Conjola and Cobargo is the skill-set required by regional architects includes a level of emotional intelligence and sensitivity,” says Brent Dunn, also of Takt Studio. “We are meeting people, business owners and entire communities who have lost everything. They have been through an emotionally charged experience – at times in a state of complete confusion regarding how to navigate their way through insurance claims, government grants, changes in building codes or simply where they are going to live while they rebuild. It is wonderful that design can be a positive part of the solution for renewal in these places.”
As if grappling to simultaneously grow and restore their disaster-ridden communities weren’t challenge enough, border closures, both interstate and international, has seen tourism go regional, with most destinations at or exceeding capacity.
“We’ve seen the full force of the fires, the floods and COVID here in Port Macquarie,” observes Chris Jenkins, founder of his eponymous design practice. “Businesses here rely on tourism and they have lost an entire season. Rebuilding, physically or financially, with the recent ‘opportunity’ of this pandemic influx is a blessing and a curse. Businesses really need to design for scalability to be sustainable.”
Further west in Mudgee, Cameron Anderson sees a heritage issue: “The interest in the regions is incredible for the local economy though the aspiration in design of any new building needs to be tempered with the existing built landscape. As an example Gulgong has over 180 heritage listed buildings and Carcoar is used as the set for films requiring a Colonial feel – disrupting this would have a negative impact on the economy of those towns.”
The Regional Architects Association aims to bring architects from across the regions together, to share experiences, discuss issues and create a better outcome – one that sees regional Australia develop sustainably, with considered public amenity and infrastructure that can cope.
“Regional Australia has become a melting pot of talented creatives in recent years and the ensuing architecture is testament to that. 2020 saw metropolitan Australia open its eyes to the regions so I am inspired at the prospect of the newly formed RAA facilitating Australia’s shift in focus towards the sea and trees.” Scott Carpenter of Create Architecture.
Open to architects from across Australia, the Regional Architects Association’s RE-GENERATE 2021 conference will present a speaker series as well as site visits. But most importantly, it will give voice to regional architects in shaping the new association.
To be held on 26-27 May, in Coffs Harbour, the 2 day seminar will host a total of 4 formal CPD points for attendees as well as the RAA Launch and opening party on the first evening. For tickets and more information, click here.
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