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Awards v Values

Over the last 10 years there seems to have been a proliferation of local and international architecture awards. As the potential for becoming “award winning” has multiplied, it’s been interesting to see apartment buildings given major plaudits overseas that at best have garnered minor local awards. I’ll not name names, (but if you ask me nicely I might whisper them to you at a party). Those that have been paying attention will probably already know some of the buildings to which I’m referring.

It’s interesting to observe the inconsistencies between awards and their values. I have an uneasy relationship with awards for architecture, which suffice to say is born out to a degree in this comparison of variously awarded (or not) projects. Putting aside this disquietude, awards are intrinsically linked with values, they’re an advertisement of what we value about architecture and apartment buildings (in this case). In NSW a value system is applied to all apartment buildings at Development Application stage and beyond, it’s called SEPP 65. For the unitiated, and to paraphrase the intent of these august documents, SEPP 65 is there to ensure all apartment buildings in NSW embody the attributes that have been identified as important in this form of housing. I’m not entirely enamoured of SEPP 65, but I think it’s fair to say that since SEPP 65 was passed into law the general consensus is that the quality of apartment buildings in NSW has improved (as assessed under this value system).

When it comes to architecture awards, the value system appears to bifurcate between either capital A Architecture versus capital A Amenity (No need for this capital A?… tough, I’m capitalising on it). When it comes to assessing bespoke houses for single clients, a convincing argument can be made for either a bias towards Architecture or Amenity (hopefully both are considered). With multiple housing, however, the argument is more fraught, it is down to values as to whether Architecture trumps Amenity or visa versa. In my opinion, the residents of these apartments should not be so beholden to an architect’s fetish for Architecture over Amenity, there is no question Amenity trumps Architecture. That is not to say there is no room for Architecture in apartment design, but when the Amenity of the building is substantially compromised by the Architecture we should not be pinning awards on these questionable approaches to apartment design.

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