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Adelaide must back its architects: Grieve

Opinion

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South Australia has an extraordinary record for invention and for creation of companies capable of competing on the world stage, with no sector demonstrating this better than the building and construction industry.

Builders Baulderstone and Hansen Yuncken are now major players on the national stage, while three of Australia’s biggest national architectural practices – Woodhead, Hassell, and Woods Bagot – have enviable international reputations, having started here in Adelaide.

Woodhead, however, this week merged with engineering firm GHD. It’s future as a standalone business is uncertain.

Our State Government recognises the need to attract and retain talented people in order to create a vibrant, competitive economy, and architectural graduates are just the type of people that we are looking to keep in South Australia.

Each year, Adelaide University and the University of South Australia (UniSA) together produce 100 fine architectural graduates. To provide these graduates with full-time employment requires an annual increase in expenditure of between $200 million and $300 million worth of architecturally designed construction projects.

The spending is there, but despite the extraordinary construction activity that has been commissioned in the recent past, many SA graduates have not been able to find work in Adelaide. Why? Much of the work is being awarded to interstate design practices.

It is critical that graduates in architecture find meaningful employment as soon as possible after completing their studies, but local practices are in no position to offer them jobs. So they have to head interstate, and are often lost to us forever.

There have been many recent examples of contracts being awarded to interstate architects and contractors. Supporting local industry by supporting local contractors should be a simple issue: building local capacity builds community resilience.

While, in most cases, the interstate firms have partnered with local practices, this has not always been so.  And questions need to be asked as to how much capacity-building these partnerships engender.

We do not have a good recent track record of building capacity in our design industries.  Over the last decade, for example, both UniSA and Adelaide University have been responsible for some of the best projects in Adelaide. Unfortunately, both universities have consistently employed interstate architects to design them.  Where is the confidence in their own courses and graduates?

The most recent example was Adelaide University commissioning a Victorian architect to design its new medical school, without providing local architects the opportunity to submit their credentials. It shows a disappointing lack of confidence in local architectural professionals, many of whom are graduates of the university.

Similarly, many of the new buildings in the Riverbank precinct have been designed predominantly by interstate practices. There are jobs in design as well as construction, and many of these are going interstate, along with our tax dollars.

This practice has to stop.  If we are serious about a resilient economy, we must pull together, we must collaborate and we must support one another to build our expertise and capacity.  We’ll never compete globally if we don’t build our local capacity.

Steve Grieve is the director of award-winning Adelaide architecture firm Grieve Gillett and president of the South Australian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects.

 

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