In October Chapter Council went on the road and landed in Bathurst, coinciding with the NSW Country Division Awards night and four day conference. During my time in Bathurst I also attended the Country Division AGM where I heard about the Special Projects Grant program. The grant funds come from money set aside by the Country Division over a number of years, with the aim of providing an avenue for members to promote the profession of architecture in regional NSW as well as to engage with the AIA. The funds on offer are not enormous, $14,000 per year, but the projects are required to be completed and funds expended within the calendar year.
This year they received 11 applications and divided the available funds between two proposals, Cameron Anderson’s application entitled Architects OUTback and Brent Dunn’s Archistand.
Anderson’s proposal caught my attention, as it seemed to distill some of the unique issues critical to practicing architecture in the country. There are great swathes of regional NSW where there are no permanent architects in practice. It is not that the people are not interested in architecture or do not have a need for the services of an architect. It is just that many country towns simply do not generate enough continuous work to sustain an architectural practice. This in turn leads to an assumption that architects are not available or interested in working in these areas, and opportunities are lost to the mediocrity of project homes and amateur designers. It provides a feedback where the bar for design is set low, and remains low.
In these remote areas potential architectural projects will also be heavily influenced by the seasonal ups and downs of farming, where projects may need to be put on hold for a number of years until conditions improve. Thus project timeframes may also be very different than in the city, but that does not mean that the client has lost interest, it is just that time has a different pace.
Anderson’s proposal is for a: “design advisory and research program that aims to promote the value of architecture and architect related services in the Western Country/Outback regions of NSW that currently don’t benefit from permanent architectural representation.”1
It is intended as a pilot program designed to test the demand for architectural services and to market what it is that architects do. It includes a free design advisory service to provide initial advice on options, feasibility, construction, sustainability and authority regulations. The proposal is for two architects from different practices to head up the initial pilot.
For the initial program an architectural road trip is planned starting in Mudgee, where Anderson practices, moving through Coonabarabran, Coonamble, Walgett and ending in Bourke.
Moving forward, Anderson sees the program developing into a permanent initiative enabling architects to service a large number of regional centres where the initial advice might be pro-bono, with travel and expenses funded through other avenues, including strategic alliances with local councils and community groups.
The proposal is also to collect data and research that could assist the Country Division in understanding how to provide an on-going architectural service when there are no permanent local registered architects.
While free design advice and data collection is the proposal, the aim is very practical – to pick up clients and projects, and to market the services of the architects.
Anderson painted a picture for me of a regular architectural road trip where the architect touches base with a number of on-going clients and their project needs. Each project in itself would not be sustainable for the architect to service, however when grouped together as part of a series of rolling consultations, the aim is to ultimately make them viable.
The proposal is idealistic but also very practical, and potentially provides an avenue for architectural service that is currently overlooked.
Director, lahznimmo architects