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RAH competition a 'radical shift', say architects

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Almost one year ago, South Australia’s architecture head Richard Hosking told InDaily the State Government was totally captured by the development lobby and design professionals had been frozen out.

Yesterday’s announcement of a design competition for the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site was a “radical shift” in that power balance, he told InDaily.

“That clearly displays a radical shift in approach and thinking by the government,” the state manager of the Architecture Institute of South Australia said.

“Perhaps not full circle, and that’s an issue of really finding the delicate balance. That’s a pendulum that will swing from time to time.

“I think it is swinging back toward a greater understanding of the value of design-led process, where designers are given the opportunity to engage across many stakeholders on these large sites – the general public being one of those stakeholders.

“This is the first competition of its kind that I’m aware of in Adelaide. It’s one of the Government’s most major departures from an announce and defend approach to the development of any major site that they are responsible for in the city and suburbs.”

In April last year Hosking told InDaily the Government was giving developers – who were singularly focused on economic returns not community benefits – free rein on sites.

“If the Government can incentivise the developer to focus not just on the economics but also the community outcomes, then that’s a win-win.

“Many do, but not all of them do clearly. If you consider our culture to somewhere like Canada, over there it’s a given that the investment community will have a focus on social and environmental outcomes in their projects, because their culture over there which has been in many ways shaped by government, that is the expectation.

“The community has to take responsibility for this as well as government.

“If the market is willing to buy building stock that isn’t of sufficient quality to be sustainable in the long term and to create good living opportunities, then you get what you pay for. And the development community will keep offering what people ask for.”

The design competition for the RAH site reflected a Government that was learning from its mistakes, Hosking said.

“Traditionally South Australian politics, as it is typically throughout Australia, has very much been announce and defend, as we have seen with some other major sites in Adelaide.

“I think the Government has learnt through criticism of that process that it is better to go through a design-led process where you work out what feasibly can be developed on a site, and then let’s explore our capacity to fund that … once we’ve worked out what are the best ideas for this site.

“And some of those ideas may not be able to be realised. But the important thing this is you need to spend the time to work out what potential does the site have, and understand all of the options, and out of a range of options some will be affordable, some won’t.”

The competition might have spill-on benefits for other sites, Hosking said.

“It may produce ideas and thinking that allows the Government to reconsider some of their planning on other future sites, because of the quality of thought and the master planning.”

 

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