The reaction to the Australian Institute of Architects’ comments last month (Old RAH site gets caught up in politics) regarding a design-led approach to the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site has been revealing on several fronts.
Perhaps the most enlightening element of those responses has been the misconception of what architects actually do – there is clearly a very narrow view that we simply design buildings in response to a need identified by other so-called more informed professions. For many people, design equals aesthetics, and nothing more.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Yes, architects do design buildings and they do try to make them look appealing, but the skill-set of architects and other design professionals is much broader than this. Designers’ training provides them with the skills and capacity to work with many varied and sometimes competing interests to fashion a coherent and comprehensive outcome.
“Frankly, no other profession can do this with the same level of skill and competency as architects.”
When designing buildings, architects orchestrate the activities of a broad group of specialists – engineers, builders, planners, policy-makers and economists, among others – to create buildings that meet their objectives and contribute to the life of the city and the broader community. It is a highly complex undertaking, and frankly, no other profession can do this with the same level of skill and competency as architects.
Just as training enables designers to tackle complex tasks such as the design of buildings, it also makes design one of the professions most capable of doing the early thinking about the next phase in the life of the old RAH site.
As the world becomes more complex, the idea that one profession alone can provide the answers to challenges is becoming increasingly untenable. More and more, challenges need teams with a variety of skills to find solutions, and the processes that designers use every day in their work are the ideal means to orchestrate these teams.
The redevelopment of the RAH site is one such challenge. It cannot be left to one group of specialists. It requires more than an economic study, more than a market analysis, more than an engineering review, and certainly more than a mid-election political thought-bubble.
It needs all of these and more, and the design process that was started last year, led by appropriately skilled design professionals, is the right process to continue meeting the challenge.
Nine times out of 10, a designer will reveal a hidden gem that no one else has thought of, either through their own input, or by critically reinterpreting the ideas of others in the team. This is what we are trained to do and what we do every day.
Richard Hosking is state manager of the Architecture Institute of South Australia.
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