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  • What does an award signify?

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Recently, everyone seems to be an architect, and everyone’s view on architecture is being shared. More and more frequently we are hearing people making judgement on the aesthetic of our cityscape and the buildings within it. It may have been brought on by a greater awareness of design through access to hyped up programs that are diligently watched on our devices, and image-based platforms that deliberately present only the ‘most attractive’ angles. However, with all this content now available, do we really know what we are looking at?

The harsh reality is that a vast majority of our urban landscape is ‘designed’ without a qualified architect involved. When an architect is involved, many projects have a developer, project manager, or client that are defining the design process and the outputs. In rare cases, an architect is given the opportunity to design and realise the project true to the original design intent.

Probably less than 5% of architecture reaches our annual Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) awards program. Of these entries, there may only be 20-30% of projects that receive recognition for design excellence. Whilst it is not a competition, there is a competitive nature to it and there is a classification structure that elevates some projects over others.

The AIA’s awards program is delivered with a jury of highly regarded architects (who are typically past recipients of awards themselves) and other industry experts in design and sustainability. It is a peer reviewed process. The diverse experience of the jury allows for decisions to be made across a diverse number of categories, from small scale residential to urban planning. Jurors receive a wealth of information on the project, sit through a presentation by the design team, and then visit the project in person to experience the space and hear from its occupants. This process provides the jury with significantly more detail than any other awards program, and naturally what any other ordinary citizen could know. It is a rigorous process that delivers an outcome that is fair and highly informed.

Every entry in the awards program is already a winner. Behind each entry is a design team and client that are extremely proud of the project and what it has accomplished for their community. However, when an architect receives an award through this jury deliberated process, it is significant. It illustrates that all their hard work, sometimes years in the making and with weighty challenges along the way, has eventuated into a building, or urban environment, that is significant for the advancement of architecture in its category. An award-winning project achieves both the ‘look’ and the ‘feel’: excellence in aesthetic quality and excellence in contributing to a better environment for society.

As a society, we need to get better at critically analysing what makes architecture excellent. We need to shift the focus from just the ‘look’ and apply more weighting on the ‘feel’. Too often we make judgement based on image, when what makes a building or urban environment great is how it functions and how occupants feel within its walls. An AIA award winning project is doing both.

Next time you are passing an intriguing building, we’d encourage to experience its inner function, not just its façade. It’s no different to opening the cover of a book and finding a good story within.

Author : Rob Henry