ACA President’s Comment – December 2020

7 December 2020

John Held takes a moment to reflect on the lessons of 2020, from the nature of community to the value of communication, and the need to be prepared and open to change.

Ideally one should wait a few years before trying to sum up what was 2020. It is still too raw and too much in flux to be able to understand the long-term implications of what we’ve just been through.  Angelina has wonderfully summed up what ACA did in 2020, however, so I can reflect on a few key points instead.

The first is what we learnt about the nature of community. In lockdown we missed our regular communities, coming together for work, family and social life. We might not have missed the daily commute, or the disfunction of much of our city design, but will have gained a new appreciation of the design of our housing and both private and public green space. As architects, what do we bring to this discussion? Surely we must advocate for better housing, better transport and recreation systems, and new visions of cities?

What did we learn about communication? Missing face to face contact with family, friends and colleagues, we probably understand now just how important this is, not only for our own sanity but as a way to truly share, collaborate and understand each other. Zoom meetings are not a substitute for deep discussions or coffee catchups. On the flipside, we can see how much time we have wasted driving or flying to poorly structured meetings. We have also learnt to communicate across distance and share ideas with people we might not have met in normal times. For a small organisation like ACA this has been a blessing, allowing people to connect and share ideas in new ways. Our profession needs to share more, mentor the next generation and invent new forms of practice to meet the new challenges we face.

Our Pulse Check surveys also taught us much about the nature of architectural work. Lockdowns forced practices to change very quickly; many lost productivity as they sorted out technical and organisational issues. This rapid change, combined with the sudden drop of work in many practices, put stress on employees and employers alike. Balancing family and work life was difficult for many, and yet the vast majority of practices will not revert to their old ways when normality resumes. It is clear there is a two-speed architectural economy at present with differences between sectors and between states. It appears that any stimulus will occur state by state rather than at a federal level.

Finally, Australia’s relative good fortune compared with the rest of the world during the pandemic is because we (on the whole) listened to the science and acted accordingly. We were prepared to change our behaviour for long-term gain. As a society we don’t seem to be as willing to treat climate change with the same degree of urgency. As architects, we must be prepared for change and to have the tools and knowledge to make better, healthier and more liveable buildings. At the same time we must not let the stresses of 2020 detract from what is a complex, frustrating but ultimately wonderful profession. For the sake of your practices, your families and yourself, I hope you have time to stop, reflect on what has been and what the future might hold for you and your profession.