2016 National Architecture Conference (CPD response)
 Whilst an interesting combination of talks, I did find some of the specific subject matter a little disjointed in respect to architecture, design and process in itself. Sadie’s presentation seemed to focus on broader collaboration, Jeff on community interaction and Julie on social economy… so apologies if my references for learning outcomes seem to be weighted more towards any one particular speaker rather than as a combined response. 

Sadie Morgan provided for an interesting understanding in collaboration and long term goals, however the scenario presented is of a scale and rarity that many practices, or at the very least my personal practice, would never have the opportunity (maybe even the want) to pursue. The presentation did lead on to a commonality that I did have a more focused interest in such as architecture and interaction, and methods and processes for community interaction utilizing architecture as a medium; such as the multi-use “Super Lobbies” provided for building residents. I would have preferred a more heavily weighted discussion with personal project references rather than a discussion on infrastructure, however the latter part of the talk worked well as a Segway into a more scaled down discussion on urban planning.
Jeff Shumaker presented insights and ideas that are highly relevant within most practices. It was an interesting insight as to the extent of zoning controls in place for New York, Manhattan and the greater surrounding areas, showing a scenario more-so driven by calculations and other prescriptive elements as opposed to a subjective one sympathetic to the wants and needs of the people interacting within that environment. While most zoning codes in Australia cater for residential components within zones, and more efficiently as mixed zones, Jeff expanded on the co-existence ideals based on a more human, street level, interactive model. Realistically this should all be second nature to the urban designer, myself included, however the real world examples with historic reference and explanation reinforces the concept of evaluating the environment from the human perspective of horizontal and vertical planes as opposed to a calculated, building and pathway based orientation of planning that typically only “accommodate” for the user. Though we are asked not provide to “a repetition of the session”, it is a little hard to elaborate on important points of reflection when he states them so simply, so… I have understood (more effectively understood???) that people live and interact at ground/street level, therefore 

- Good Urban Design accommodates this as a way of normal life. 
- Good Urban Design creates or reinforces a sense of space open and accessible to All. 
- Good Urban Design is planned and designed with care and attention to detail 
- Good Urban Design makes you feel good. 

So simply speaking, from a community level point of view, producing good urban design is having the understanding to know how to engage through visualization, think across scales, think long term and question the status quo. 

Julie Eizenberg’s presentation also centred on community and interaction though slightly less with the interaction of buildings and people but more with the understanding of how buildings, or parts of buildings, influence interaction among the people within the community. It is refreshing to be convinced by example that unlikely community (communal) areas such as laundries, halls, stoops and the like are active areas of engagement and can be “dressed” as defacto meeting and engagement areas rather than the simple utilitarian spaces we come to think of them. As architects we do understand that these “use” spaces do cater for interaction, however it seems to have always been interpreted (misinterpreted?) as forced… Julie on the other hand has understood that by enlivening these space… by extended roof gardens, shared zones, or generally just a more than expected comfortable environment or outlook contributes to social wants and needs… hence theses spaces are often seen as preferred meeting and interaction spaces. 

I would guess that maybe there is an underlying link to all three presentations, though addressed at varying levels of implementation… and broadly that’s community interaction with architecture and it’s shared environment. For me these are the elements I have chosen to better understand and educate myself further in the daily running of my architectural business and practice. Social economy, global and regional future visions and crisis management I will leave to academics and those proficient in the fields. 

For me this series of talks enforced my understanding of the relevance of what architecture is there for, that it is not predominantly just a structure for utilitarian or iconic use, but should also be of relevance to those who engage with it. Astrid Klien emphasized the need for human scale, engagement and fun, Urtzi and Cristina rationalized the process of design for user comfort as primary objective over purpose, while Kevin Low compared processing a design based on form or context… and then evolving to one that blurs the two.
Astrid shows a real understanding of human scale and relevance. Through example she enforces the fact that architecture should be about a memorable experience… not necessarily the building in itself, but of how the spaces play a part in enforcing the experience of the users. Be it a wedding chapel, bookstore or multi-national company; user outcomes, interaction, regional culture and relevant scale are seen as one of the first points of relevance and the overall design and implementation provides a piece of architecture that is not wholly about the building but one of experience. 

Urtzi and Cristina kicked against the norm and proved that even building that are seen as utilitarian should, and could, be designed in a way that is heavily geared towards the user and social norms of the culture rather than primarily for the objects held within them; Guggenheim Helsinki a case in point. The enclosing space was designed for user comfort and cultural expectations, with artwork taking (a controlled) second place by careful environment layering, manipulation and object placement. Obviously this solution provides for some limitation on showcasing items, however it does provide for greater community interaction due to regional and cultural “comfort” expectations being met.
Kevin’s piece was an interesting analysis of design rational and outcomes. Whilst we as architect do it often; commence a design from a form reference, or begin based primarily on context, it was interesting to see the two processes presented in a tabled and compared manner. Kevin’s understanding of the intricacies of both has allowed him to push the design envelope a little more by fully understanding the human/structure/nature interplay; nature lives and grows amongst built structure, construction marks and mistakes are seen as an evolution of a space and included as a natural part of it, and people use the spaces as an expected cultural norm. An enlightening talk, and a truly interesting architect. 

I found this sessions of talks to be one of the more informative and relevant of the seminar series as it genuinely “led by example”. I tend to work with predominantly utilitarian structures or developer (ie pure profit) driven structures, however when presented with architects that can talk about what they feel is relevant for the user, then show that in practice (rather than theory), and commit to abide by their design beliefs… and it is evidenced as working, it just emphasizes, for me anyway, that I need to “play” just that little bit more. 

I must say that my initial understanding of the session heading was that talks would be of designing resilience into buildings as opposed to building resilience into community… one would seem an architecture based discussion, the latter… one dealing with social needs and expectations. However, I will do my best to extract architecture relevant (as they pertain to my practice) points of discussed within this panel piece. 
Interestingly though, there were a few key statements made that did make me ponder (and some that just plainly agitated me), one poignant point being that “the presence of resilience governs the ability to bounce back”. In this case the reference was made in relation to community and people, however, being an architect, I analysed the discussions with a more direct relationship to the profession itself… and fortunately, discussion did end up veering away a little from community support, community resilience, community aided design, bringing community together, and pretty much all things community… unfortunately Resilience didn’t. Maybe we need to focus more on design resilience (as well as structural resilience, sustainability, adaptability, buildability, useability and… our ability) as a focus - we are after all architects and not social workers or disaster relief workers. Sorry if I sound harsh but a lot of the seminar contexts seemed to be shifting away from individual (in the sense of client based) architecture to community (driven by everything but a client based) architecture… so are we NOW to concede that architecture (as a profession) is irrelevant as the community has a combined understanding exceeding our own. If so, I’m saddened to think that SOON is definitely too early for NOW. This point seems to be emphasised by David Sanderson when he stated that “Architects should be out of the (aid) system”, so where is our relevance when we have presenters diminishing our usefulness? if architects were once seen as being smart, innovative, forward thinking etc then why are we now so unimportant? World Aid is an important factor, community resilience is important, but this is an architecture conference… surely we also have some importance. 
Obviously there is a need for community co-ordinated design and interaction, we are after all designing for community (and individuals), I also hate to burst bubbles, but design in disaster relief is also needed – though I do agree that maybe there are better solutions than a “dome house”. Resilience too has a need; and I have taken on board my own adaptation of the “3 areas of resilience” mentioned in the community based discussion, 

1. Resilience can be considered as physical 
2. The capacity of people to adapt or find opportunity, and 
3. Peoples capacity to navigate the system. 
Which I have adapted for my own needs as, 

1. Resilience IS considered as physical – providing structures and design/build/repair processes that accommodate for (expected not rare) conditions. 
2. The capacity of BUILDINGS (WITHIN THEIR DESIGN) to HELP people to adapt or find opportunity – we can’t expect a building type to always remain at it’s original intent, history shows us this virtually never happens. Whilst not evident as to what transformations may need to occur, a little forethought in relation to regional location, specific location, surrounding structures and community base will all give a clue. 
3. A BUILDINGS (WITHIN IT’S DESIGN) Peoples capacity to PROVIDE FOR PEOPLE TO navigate the system – the difference between using and not using a building, as is, adapted, or in disaster. Unless designed specifically as “Icon”, a building is inherently there for use.  
Other statements raised include, 

- The ability of providing opportunity for people to see change as part of their everyday life. 
- Community help needed to design their neighbourhood. 
- The need to bring people together to foster community. 
- Vulnerability is a negative word while Resilience is positive. 
- And again, everything community. 
You can find (architectural) relevancy in any statement by manipulating it, substituting words, or maybe even squinting, however are these issues truly architecturally relevant? Speaking professionally, and without intending to disparage any of the speaker’s ideals, as obviously they are truly valid in the right circumstances, Is this seminar series relevant in relation to NOW or RESILIENCE… architectural design seems little used, while community seems to be the construct. Should we be looking at wholly community design or are we allowed to design for individuals. Is it our place (as architects) to state that it is important that people need (have) to rely on their neighbours in the case of disaster? It would seem that the weaker are asked to rely on the stronger when realistically it is not their right to have others look after them. If we nanny state our community will we be building with pillows surrounding every edge and post, or providing a mattress at every drop should we fall. People should live a life based on how they enjoy living; if within a community that’s fine, if alone… then let them be, not design for a collective life based on a one in whatever chance of disaster. Do we really want a scared and feeble society? 
It looked as if Nick Trident was trying to (politely) push the discussion towards an architectural rather than community/social worker level of discussion, which worked for a little but seemed to transgress back to a social (socialist?) frame of discourse, to the extent that statements were uttered such as “we need to change the individual’s mindset”. WHY? Are we not free to be individual rather than a group herd? 
Again, it wasn’t all community based, some more personally relevant and useable points were also raised, whether direct quotes or my (mis)interpretation of them include, 
- Architects need time and money to think more laterally. community expects a lot for nothing/free. 
- As history shows, changes are due to forced conflict (or disasters), this may change people down the track, but realistically people prefer the status quo until we have to change. Design appropriately. 
- Architects can develop/design for future resilience... but it is most times at a cost (socially and monetarily). 
- Long life - loose fit... a design approach to building design and surrounds. 
- Design as a starting point but don't define a finish point to allow for future needs. 
Apologies for the bluntness at times, however it is important to provide feedback whether it seems positive or negative, and I hope no ill-feelings are felt by readers, organisers or guests. It may very well just be me, as I found the subject matter relevant, however the detail seemed to have diluted the architectural relevance. Well, Ok, that’s off my chest. Now that I’m finished, and as David Sanderson stated, i’ll “just need to get on with it”. 

There were a lot of points discussed within this panel piece, which makes it a little hard to define any one element as a key point that I can incorporate into practice, however the following comments come to mind; 
Charles Rice seems to have hit the nail on the head when he stated that “within conferences it seems that architects distance themselves from a business sense, yet in private practice there is an embrace of developers.”, and that “we are repeating the problems, discussing them, then revisiting them with little solution”. Ironically these statements come at the start of a panel discussion that more or less follows the same trend. I am uncertain by tone whether Charles was applying the statements as an implied question or a specific statement, however I would like to think of it as a warning. Throughout the conference we have been asked to look for more and more questions rather than just one answer. Design is an iterative process, no architect (I would hope) provides just the one specific answer without exploring more solutions. When a solution/solutions are proposed that in itself should become a stepping stone for exploring “enhancements” to a required solution. Working in practice, profitably, requires you to do the best you can, at timeframes you are committed to, all at a cost and within a commercially viable brief… through panel discussions it would seem to imply that academia, social work and disaster relief seems to be able to perform with a looser noose. The warning I mention is more a negative statement; we spend a lot of time questioning everything within discussion groups, but we don’t question them in a way that a (business) profession runs, but in a way that relooks at everything in a new way and hence never really coming up with a solution… only things that “we should explore further”. 
Whether intended or not, Sandra Kaji-O’Grady, seems to imply the same opinion when she responded with how “stupid” a political candidate’s idea of formulating a running platform based on internet responses on what the people want. We are professionals, we are meant to know and understand that which we do. Sandra’s point would seem to imply that architects need to be professionally true. Yes, consult with the public when needed, but come up with a starting frame for the current and apparent solution prior to diluting everything else in the pursuit of an all-encompassing solution that may not even be needed for a problem that may not exist or effects so few that the majority are denied the best solution. 
To indirectly counter this, and expand on the “ask more questions” scenario it was implied, I think by Thomas Fisher, that as architects we are graphically driven in presenting information, and by asking questions we can come up with more solutions to things that would not normally be in the realm of architecture, but needs can be generated from the solution. In this case I think the example may have been a graphical representation of socio-economic scales within regions. I can understand the point presented, however, is it “architecture”? I have less than a professional interest in realms outside of architecture, as a professional am I overstepping my bounds by implying I now provide socio-economic data as an architectural service. I know other examples of greater relevance were provided, but my question is, are we doing architecture as a business for our paying clients or are we, as architects, in that bad a state that we now have to keep asking questions and keep looking for problems so we can cure every other ailment in society and hang it under the banner of architecture?... hey, whaddayouknow, I’ve just started asking questions… unfortunately I don’t have a solution. 
Is Nasrine Seraji in agreement?… yes, another question. She states that “architects can no longer interest the public as educators if decision making is not extended (at least partly) back into finding an interest in architecture”. A multi-level statement, however for my purposes could it not be read that architects are diluting the profession of architecture itself by presenting itself as something everyone is capable of; we are encouraged to attend community design meetings so everyone can put their own personal touch within a project rather than providing an overlying cohesive solution; we are asked to explore projects to find problems that aren’t currently there so as to modify a brief to potentially increase costs of projects (and fees); we are encouraged to look for revenue outlets outside of the field and place them under the banner of architecture. Is it any wonder the public doesn’t fully understand what we actually do as our service is becoming a little ill-defined? I am a professional, I am an architect, and as Nasrine stated “we need a mediator process (drawing etc) to portray the understanding and concept” and for me personally that implies a hierarchy where I, as architect, should understand (up to a level) community needs and wants, provide a solution, and enhance (or redesign) a solution on valid (social and economic) community responses rather than an uninformed (but well-intended) community based brief.  
I’ve expanded on one element only, and valid responses and questions were also raised on the matter by other panel members (Timothy Hill, Kirstin Thompson) throughout. However further conversations also developed around education, community and values, disaster relief, form verses content design and a myriad of other elements. All understood, taken in and reflected apon, however for fear of presenting a full essay on all discussion points and implications I will halt here.  
With that said however, sorry, this seems to be the most relevant session report to air my greivences as it was the last session of the series, I personally found that whilst panels predominantly held an interesting discussion, and as may have been inferred, discussion points that both engaged and irked me, as an overall conference there were way too many panel discussions and not enough real world (built) references. In the frequent past I have attended the national seminars as a means of understanding how my peers (not peer groups) evaluate what they do architecturally, rationalize the processes and outcomes, emphasize by practice examples and show the benefits of what they do… based on a seminar series theme. These are the real world ideals I take back to my practice ant try and make my practice better. Closing discussion panels are always relevant as they are generally a recap of the whole seminar, however as a full series of discussion panels peppered throughout the seminar they provided me with limited insight as discussion points are generally diluted to get more content in and lightly glossed over in an effort not to openly contradict, disagree or offend any fellow panel opinion. Individual presentations will always be more succinct and passion driven, whether you agree with the points or perspective given is not of importance, what is important is that you are given a lot of information (and real world reference) to take in, learn from, or (rarely) disregard. 

Take what you like from this last statement, however it is by no means a slur on the conference itself or its organizers… as overall it’s a big job and a job well done! However as a more intense “learning” experience please consider more peer driven (example led) presentations over group discussion panels.