Ideas: projects, writing, research, thinking


Posted by On Apr 01, 2016 In Ideas, Opinion Tags , , ,

A strong architectural community should present thoughtful and strident public architectural and built environment advocacy. Sydney, however, is notable for the dearth of conspicuous built environment and architectural champions. There are notable exceptions, but we’re not here to name names. Instead we’ve been mulling over what constitutes architectural and built environment advocacy and how we can do more. We started listing the actions we can take. Some actions are obvious, some less so and not all are necessarily within everyone’s capability or possibility. If you’re keen to join us, here’s our list to date:

Speaking Out In Public:

Writing and Journalism – Architectural Criticism:

Newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, blogs, podcasts, social media, etc. Basically any form of written or broadcast media. It’s possible to start small; write a social media post or a blog. It’s not necessary to be a literary or oratory genius, just a little thoughtful and maybe pointed.

Public Lectures/ Talks:

Get your milk crate out, or lectern. Don’t just talk about your own built projects, talk about context, advocate for better built outcomes and rail against the poor ones.

Educational Institutions, Public Courses, Tours:

Tutor and /or teach at an educational institution – advocate for a better built environment and build in your students that greater knowledge and awareness. It doesn’t have to necessarily be in a built environment subjects or topics, but it helps. Design literacy is not to be underestimated. A Dane once told me that they all study design at school or tertiary study or at least a high proportion of them do – admittedly I’ve been too lazy to confirm this but trust me, it helps to make a point. The high proportion design literate population has necessarily lead to the high quality of Danish design and built environment.

Walking and bicycle tours, led through the city, are also an excellent platform for built environment advocacy. The best classroom is often one where the “students” are immersed in the subject. In our opinion, Sydney Architecture Walks are brilliant advocates for Sydney’s architecture and built environment. Yes, we named a name, but point made, OK?

Design/ Architectural Commissions:

Refusing Commissions:

Credit where credit is due; this is one we’ve recently discussed with David Neustein and also read in an excellent Don Gazzard blog post about part of the history of the Sydney Opera House, post Utzon (all Don’s blog posts are essential reading BTW).

The best way to stop a poor outcome is to make a stand and not accept the commission in the first place. A type of design or architectural Green Ban if you like. What if no-one had accepted the Sydney Opera House commission following Utzon’s suspension of his services? As design professionals, there is a responsibility to work for the good of the city, not just the client – this is a form of advocacy.

Adjusting the Expectations Within a Design Brief:

Refusing the commission too extreme? Is there a likelihood of a poor outcome through rigid adherence to the brief? If so, advocate for a better outcome by adjusting the brief or at the very least work on adjusting the client’s expectations.

Unsolicited Proposals/ Paper Propositions:

Be a little provocative. Play critic through a design proposition: in a public competition, self publish or even construct the proposition if possible. It may not make it beyond the drawing board, but if it provokes a critical reconsideration of a particular approach, place or building, then job done. Do a web search for “unsolicited architecture”, you’ll get the idea.


Art as critical thinking and advocacy has a long history. This is not too dissimilar to the Unsolicited Proposal, just a little more artistic. Callum Morton is a good local example, but no more names… until the next one.

Commissioning and Building:

There is perhaps no better way than to advocate for a better built environment, than build or reconstruct a bit of it better yourself – advocacy and criticism by contrast and construction. There is no better recent illustration of this than The Nightingale Model, initiated by Jeremy Mcleod of Breathe Architecture. He established a group of architect investors to design and construct better and more sustainable apartments in Melbourne. Advocacy by direct action.


Get elected! Admittedly, not many would take this on, but you could be a powerful force for change.
Whether you agree with what they’ve done (or doing) it is hard to argue that elected representatives such as Clover Moore, Frank Sartor and Ted Mack, haven’t achieved a huge amount for architectural and built environment advocacy.

any thoughts? Have we listed all options? Do you have anything to add? Please do put comments and thoughts in the Comments section below. Don’t be shy, advocacy starts here and now.

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