Monthly Archives: August 2019

Apartment Buildings in Australia in Disarray: A Response to the Four Corners Expose

Ill-Conceived Economics

Twenty years ago when the builders together with the authorities allowed the construction industry to cheapen buildings and supposedly speeding up the process and avoiding red tape, there was an economic disaster in the making.

They conspired to cut out the architect as leader of the construction industry team. It started with accountants acting as project managers/cost controllers and rapidly spread to the proliferation of design construct companies, who used designer – drafting services and rarely any registered architects. The Governments at the time thought it was a “beaut” idea. It was flawed through ignorance and an abuse of power that did not ever serve the public interest.

As the ABC expose on Four Corners showed, Australia was at that point destined to create problems on a massive scale:

Prior History

Prior to that time, architects traditionally were engaged by clients or developers to certify all payments to the builder. Or professional role was to protect the standards of construction, health and generally urban design quality and standards of finish – Not any more it seems!

Now with an unimaginably large cost burden to strata owners, first in the firing line to rectify defects, it ultimately will end up a burden for the tax burden due to legal loopholes that protect the real perpetrators.

The Cost of Incompetence

The Four Corners program indicates the scale of the issue that has delivered what I estimate at being a $1.6 Billion expense to rectify the compounding problems that are endemic in 70% of apartments built over the last 20 years.  This has happened, all to avoid paying the architects about $100 million in fees to avoid this occurrence.

We have first hand experience in many cases over the last 20 years having to audit process and set up a rectification programs for many design construct buildings after the event. Ecotect-Architects are currently trying to rectify a serious apartment fire escape issue in Perth. The Strata owners in this case will get through a rectification cost reasonably unscathed, but they are much luckier than most.  The building at present does not comply for fire exits for instance.

Superintendence and Certification Roles

Proper superintendence and certification of progress payments by responsible registered and insured architect would have avoided all the current issues and expense to the community.  Also all the buildings would have a better quality of design and finish and reflect higher real estate values.

It is not just a problem based on greed and ignorance from the collusion of design construct builders and developers. It is just plain stupidity that our fellow professionals identified when this new approach became accepted by the relevant authorities.

Action from Architects and Engineers to help Governance

The destruction of real estate values, people’s lives in turmoil has been the result. Some blame can be attributed to banks still living a delusion that ‘A Class’ builders have more credibility than ‘A Class Architects’ in de-risking a finance deal.  How wrong is that belief system proven to be, when it is their capital under threat when quality issues undermine the investment.

The Government now needs to work out a smart way forward with the Australian Institute of Architects, Engineers Australia and the Master Builders to reconsider the legal chain of command and due processes and more stringent compliance procedures. Business as usual is clearly not working!

Housing Industry

The Housing Industry set up checks and balances over 30 years ago to protect the consumer and maintain standards. Surely the bigger end of town should have followed. Alas they didn’t and now Australia is faced with 20 years of eroded economic value!

This unfortunately has fuel NIMBY hysteria over change and giving negative people just cause to attack densification around transport and commercial nodes that in itself is a very good strategy, especially if all developments are designed well on ESD guidelines as well.  But that takes good architects.

Professionalism Re-emergence

Re-establishment of professionalism in Australia is the way forward. It would be easy for industry and governments to blame the victims and exonerate the perpetrators. The opposite is needed. Why have trained architects and engineers sidelined to often un-educated builder/developers to look after the public interest. It is not the architects who have been asleep at the wheel.  Ill-conceived disempowerment of professionals is to blame. The system has worked well for centuries. 

Time to make things right again.  Technical and ethical expertise is what it takes to be an engineer or architect.

Lets use our assets properly!

Old School Architects

We are old school architects at Ecotect-Architects and deliver on all aspects. Project management, supervision of builders and tradesman where needed, as well as delivering excellence in planning, urban design, documentation all combine to deliver high quality innovative ESD projects.

People who think differently clearly do not belong in the 21st century built environment industry, with all its socio / economic / cultural challenges and the ability to recognize how sustainable outcomes are delivered.

Garry Baverstock AM Director of Wise Earth PL and Principal of Ecotect-Architects – August 2019