Designing an economic recovery

Published May 15th, 2020

Architects are hoping the government will consider a series of targeted initiatives to stimulate the economy as attention shifts to COVID-19 recovery plans.

A range of solutions proposed earlier this month by the Australian Institute of Architects [6] to support the construction industry could potentially do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to stimulating economic activity, the institute says.

As is the case with many property industry bodies, fast-tracking infrastructure and project approvals, and a buy local approach are high on the AIA’s agenda.

But with uncertainty already affecting a number of construction companies and private sector builds, along with concerns over the lack of big-ticket items on the state government’s development agenda, it is unclear where this fast-tracked work will come from.

Architect Kent Lyon hopes the state’s decision makers remember that bigger doesn’t always mean better.

“What drives me crazy is that sometimes when we talk stimulus, immediately it’s ‘Oh we need to build a new arena’… but sometimes it’s more a matter of what we actually need,” Mr Lyon told Business News.


Mr Lyon said it was sometimes the smaller but more needed projects, like refurbishments, that could provide the most effective instant buffer, highlighting the AIA’s calls for government to consider public buildings and cityscape upgrades as part of the infrastructure project focus.

Mr Lyon’s Bunbury-based practice, Kent Lyon Architect, has a number of projects under way across the South West, including work on Bunbury Senior High School and the Collie River Valley Medical Centre.

“We’re also currently working on an older heritage building in Bunbury, that’s interior plus heritage work,” Mr Lyon said. “Those projects are often quick wins; you don’t have to do a lot of construction, you’re just reconfiguring existing buildings.”

He said that also created less reliance on importing building materials, which had emerged as a significant issue for building sites across Australia that relies on China for their supply chain.

The other added bonus of starting a recovery stimulus smaller was that upgrade and fitout works didn’t need to jump through as many regulatory or approval hoops.

With governments occupying about 30 per cent of Australia’s commercial building space, the AIA said it had also identified significant opportunities to invest in improvements to ailing local government buildings and public amenities.

Perth-based MKDC Design Consultants director Kath Kusinski said this had huge potential to build a pipeline to support professional architects and design consultancies, and she urged state and local government to not stall projects over the next 18 to 24 months

The consultancy recently completed the interior design and contract administration of a new 9,600 square metre fitout for the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation in Joondalup.

“The biggest challenge MKDC Design Consultants have faced since COVID-19 has been the number of projects that have gone on hold across all sectors due to the uncertainty of how market demand may change post COVID,” Ms Kusinski said.

“Placing importance on the design, documentation and approvals processes to underpin projects and get them under way as soon as possible is a critical factor.

“Local councils can take this opportunity to focus on new buildings and refurbishments of community spaces around our parks, lakes and foreshores and the inclusion of intergenerational hubs to stimulate communities for everyone.”

AIA national president Helen Lochhead said the institute’s proposed solutions for government had drawn on lessons learned from Australian’s response to the GFC.

Professor Lochhead said one of those learnings was that there should be a particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, which comprise 98 per cent of businesses in the building and construction industry.

“One of the key lessons learned from the Building Education Revolution program during the GFC was that projects were placed in the hands of a few large companies, with small and regional businesses missing out on the downstream benefits of this stimulus spending,” she said.

Mr Lyon said promoting architect joint ventures was one solution to spreading opportunities across metropolitan and regional firms for maximum benefit, having previously partnered with Cox Architecture for a Bunbury Regional Prison project.

It was also another way to avoid price battles, he said, with many regional firms in past times of economic stress undercutting fees to win work.

One recently priced a job 70 per cent below Mr Lyon’s proposal for a complex multi-staged project. “It’s not a bad idea to share specialities and benefits on both sides: bigger projects … plus the fact that I’m literally around the corner [from the site],” he said “And there’s been a real spirit of community through COVID-19 supporting local. “I don’t know whether that’ll translate for us, but I hope so.”

This article was written by Katie McDonald and published by Business News