NSW architecture and design policy needs to balance innovation and regulation: Chris Johnson

NSW architecture and design policy needs to balance innovation and regulation: Chris Johnson
NSW architecture and design policy needs to balance innovation and regulation: Chris Johnson

GUEST OBSERVER

The announcement by NSW Minister for Planning, Rob Stokes, that an architecture and design policy will be developed to give a focus on design quality is positive, provided a balance between innovation and regulation is achieved.

Clearly it is better to have good design rather than bad design of the buildings and precincts in urban areas.

While the intent of the policy is good we need to ensure that design does not become a tick the box assessment criteria measured against prescriptive design manuals.

The draft document states that guidelines, standards and manuals will be developed ‘to assist authorities in the assessment of design proposals.’ 

The draft policy document has many worthwhile statements about the importance of design quality but design quality can be a very subjective issue. The draft policy, for instance, says good design is 'local and of its place' as well as being ‘distinctive, visually interesting and appealing’. This raises the issue of balancing local design that fits in with the existing context compared to the one off exceptional design that stands out.

The Urban Taskforce is supportive of the need for design excellence in the built environment particularly as our urban areas become more compact. Currently State Environmental Planning Policy 65 defines design quality through the Apartment Design Guide for buildings above 3 storeys.

Any new policy must not duplicate the current SEPP.

The role of The NSW Government Architect is supported by the Urban Taskforce as an advocate for design quality across New South Wales. The current Government Architect, Peter Poulet, is chair of the Taskforce’s Development Excellence Awards jury and we are positive about supporting his role.

The most likely way to lift design quality is to ensure the best designers do the work. This is what SEPP 65 does by ensuring qualified architects design apartment buildings over 3 storeys. The use of design excellence competitions with floor space uplift as an incentive are worthwhile and design review panels with a diverse group of reviewers can also help ensure quality.

The Urban Taskforce is keen to work with the NSW Government to develop appropriate approaches to ensuring design quality as cities like Sydney double in size over one generation. Clearly denser cities need to ensure that design quality gives communities a positive sense about both the private and the public built environment. The NSW Government Architect can play an important role in delivering these quality outcomes.

Chris Johnson is chief executive officer of property development industry group Urban Taskforce and can be contacted here.

Tags: 
Architecture Building Design

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