Wither the (R)AIA

In April Cameron Bruhn took charge of the AIA (the Aussie one not the US one*). I praised the appointment and looked forward to changes. I stand by that expectation, but four months on, and it’s crickets out here. By all reports Bruhn went to all the state’s awards knees-up, but I didn’t spot him in Steak and Kidney, so I missed out on getting that one-to-one chat he’s promised. Door’s open always.

Many of the activities that made the AIA so publicly prominent so in the past, are now lost. The business of architects (fees, schedules, contracts) is much better addressed by the ACA. Small practices have opted out in droves; they find their own networks more fulfilling. And cheaper. The awards program has more competition: it’s not the best (as claimed at the recent edition) if the main distinguishing feature is the eye-watering budgets of the winners.

Advocacy is continually bogged in conflict-of-interest issues. Public education is better handled by the tiny AAA. CPD has always been a shambles, made worse when a highly capable manager, with 40 years’ experience, was sacked before she could effect change. The recent turnover in staff leaves no corporate memory, and worse still, little understanding of architecture. Competitions are endorsed that are demeaning to ideas, promoting presentations. The list goes on.

Maybe the ship can’t be turned around so quick. The task is bigger than anyone suspected. There will need to be more time and more consultation. But we need a strong Institute, now more than ever. An inversion is necessary. For years the volunteer-based organisation has been asking architects, through their work, to enhance the reputation of the AIA. Now the AIA must be a professional organisation that enhances the reputation of architects.

*As an aside: no-one has ever adequately explained why we dropped the Royal (when Alec Tzannes was National President). Most of us still find it useful, at least the distinguishing initial.

A faeces focaccia

There’s a National Cabinet next week to discuss housing policies. Federal Labor and the states will never admit it, but they’ve been forced into this response by the Greens. As I have written over several weeks in Tone on Tuesday columns, they got wedged because the HAFF (Housing Australia Future Fund) is pitifully inadequate, and they didn’t account for a third of the electorate that rent. A summary of those columns was published this week in the SMH and the Age, under the title of The Greens could seize control on housing, and the PM didn’t see it coming.

There were many hundreds of comments, most supporting the argument, some disputing my assertions along party lines. One bit of scribble that did elicit a bit of notice was my description of Tanya Plibersek being handed a s**t sandwich of a job as environment minister. Except that, given her woke inner city electorate, and the niceties of the newspapers, I called it a faeces focaccia. One wit replied it was more a poo panini.

Setting aside those scatological aspects, I (immodestly) think it was my best column on the topic, and I hope that next week’s summit brings both much larger investments in public housing, and universal reforms in rental policies; all of which will prove me right that Labor is wedged by the Greens, but more importantly will start to address the most pressing issue of inequality in Australia.

Green Vans

This van has been parked around the corner for about a year. Recently it got a makeover, with a change of colour and MicMac removed (as he should be). The green roof got me thinking about greening our vehicle fleet of vans. Little bit of extra insulation, offset by extra weight.

Which put me in mind of this one I spotted in Melbourne in 2012. Luscious coat of plastic grass, that hopefully has gone to the wreckers before it sheds too much of the microplastics into the waterways. An excellent debunking of the plastic grass myth by E M Farrelly here.

But for sheer green-ness you can’t go past the triple bottom line of OzHarvest’s food truck. OzHarvest has been doing some of our best philanthropic social work in ensuring food doesn’t go to waste. In a country with an over-abundance of food, an obesity epidemic, but many going hungry, this is one of the most sustainable practices we have. Respect Ronni Kahn.

Bookends: Environmentalism is women’s work

I’ve written several Tone on Tuesday columns about how women led the environmental movement in the 1960s. Here and there. You could do a lot worse in the bookends than to read these two that have never been out of print. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961 and Rachel Carson, scientist, Silent Spring 1962. Notably there will be a session at the upcoming Sustainability Summit on how these early women writers set the scene for environmentalism.

Signs off: Van Quality

You should always ensure your work matches your branding.

Or at least the signs in the van. St Leonards NSW, April 2023.


Tone Wheeler is an architect / the views expressed are his.

A&D Another Thing, 11 August 2023 (week 32)

Long columns are Tone on Tuesday, short shots every Friday in A&D Another Thing.

You can contact TW at [email protected]