President’s Comment – June 2022

22 June 2022

ACA National President John Held discusses some of the current issues dogging the construction industry, including price rises, materials shortages, labour scarcity and delays, and the impacts on building contracts. On a more positive note, the ACA recently got together in Melbourne for its annual NEC meeting (the first in-person meeting in some time!), with excellent informative sessions, strategic planning and the novelty of catching up face to face.

Rumours of the death of the building contract are exaggerated, but we have seen in the last few months the standard building contract under severe stress. A perfect storm of price rises, materials shortages, labour scarcity and delays caused by these issues and by the aftermath of COVID restrictions have left architects scratching their heads as to how to advise their clients. Adhere to the strict interpretation of a contract conceived pre-pandemic, and risk builders and subcontractors going broke? Come to some arrangement, no matter what the contract says?

On 22 June we learnt that the SA Government’s Department of Infrastructure and Transport and the MBA SA have agreed on a Rise and Fall clause for contracts signed since 1 January 2022. This is perhaps a signal to other government and private clients that the situation is serious and needs urgent action.

Every conversation with architects across all states has raised the same issues. Some clients are aware of the problems and are prepared to be flexible. Others, schooled in the concept of just shifting risk, do not see it as their problem. Clients embarking on new projects will need to understand the issues and plan accordingly. The ACA will try to assist by curating resources for architects who need to convince clients, lending authorities (and lawyers) of the merits of sensible solutions to these problems.

Our recent face-to-face National Executive meeting in Melbourne was a chance to refresh our strategic plan and to finally meet in person team members who we had only seen as a little square in Zoom. It was also a chance for our Executive Officers to meet and plan for the coming year. I am constantly grateful for the knowledge, enthusiasm and output of the whole ACA team in producing resources that are valued by the profession – something that is reflected in the feedback we receive and our growing membership base. And if you’ve forgotten – it’s renewal time!

On a more sombre note, the recent fifth anniversary of the Grenfell fire (and another London tower block fire as I write this note) is a reminder that many parts of the building industry – its relationships, professionalism and regulatory environment – are still badly broken both in the UK and here in Australia. Four years after the Building Confidence report was issued, there are still uncoordinated and piecemeal efforts to improve the industry, with every state and territory seemingly determined to re-invent the wheel. There are already concerns about possible backtracking from progress made in states such as NSW, and fears as to what new legislation in Victoria could mean for architects. Our members across Australia are our eyes and ears – we need to understand what’s happening on the ground that could affect the quality of architecture and building in your state.

Lastly, following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Association of Architecture Schools of Australasia (AASA), I recently attended a meeting of their executive. There is a definite need for better connection between academia and practice, and we hope the constructive dialogues continue.

Our team wish you the best for the new (financial) year, and that your clients and builders successfully navigate the tricky waters ahead!

(L-R) Matthew Thomas, Emma Brain, John Held, Gilda Donegan, Sharon Knighton, Agi Sterling, Angelina Pillai, Michelle Eades, Paul Viney, Marie Frost, Kukame McPierzie, Sascha Byrne (absent: Katherine Ygosse, Susie Ashworth)