Welcome Robert Wesener
The ACA – Qld/NT has a new branch President. Congratulations to Robert Wesener! Robert will also be taking on the role of ACA National Treasurer.
Robert Wesener is the Managing Director of Brisbane-based Fulton Trotter Architects, responsible for the management of the Project Support and Administration Teams. These teams work with all project teams to provide support and help develop and maintain appropriate processes and systems to continually develop the firm’s philosophy of quality architecture. Robert has practised as an architect for more than 30 years, and as Fulton Trotter’s internal health expert has delivered some of Queensland’s most significant regional health projects to communities all over the state. Robert has been a member of the ACA for five years and has recently supported immediate past President Mark Williams in his role as Vice President of the Qld/NT branch. He takes on the Qld/NT branch presidency as well as the role of ACA National Treasurer. Outside architecture, Robert’s other great passion is baseball. He is an avid spectator of the sport at all levels and an accredited umpire. He also volunteers his time in the administration of the sport in Queensland and was the Commissioner of Baseball Queensland Inc from 2014-2017.
We ask Robert to discuss his time with the ACA, the challenges facing architects today, and his future plans, including expanding the branch’s extensive program of events to the regions.
How long have you been involved with the ACA, and what do you see as the main benefits of membership?
I’ve been involved with the ACA for five years, but our practice Fulton Trotter has had a connection with the ACA for some time, with one of our Directors Mark Trotter being a former Qld/NT branch president. The ACA has many benefits. It offers the opportunity for architectural practices to network together, to learn from each other, and to seek advice. Up here in Queensland, we have a very active professional development program of events and site tours, and that allows us to meet regularly, communicate and learn from each other.
What have been the greatest challenges the industry faces in recent times?
One of the real challenges for architectural practices is the business of architecture, which is obviously the main focus of the ACA. For me, re-establishing the importance of the role of the architect in the building industry is very important, because I think the value of architects is not necessarily fully understood, which often leads to pressure on fees.
Every year when we ask members what kind of events they’d like and what sort of topics they want to see covered, a key theme is fee setting and how to secure good fees – but it’s not just the fees we should focus on. It’s a matter of understanding how we value our services. Is the traditional way we break up our fees appropriate? What is our role? How is it seen within the construction industry? Are there ways of lifting our profile and ensuring we get rewarded for our skills and talents? It concerns the business management side of things as well as the design.
The term ‘architect’ is used very loosely sometimes. I don’t think people really understand what we do and the kind of services that we can provide – how we can make a significant difference to projects, whether they are residential, commercial or institutional projects. This is a big issue for me. Our firm doesn’t do a lot of residential work, but there are many ACA members who do – for them, it’s important that the general public understands the difference between working with an architect and working with a builder or a building designer.
When it comes to commercial and institutional work, it’s important that we hold our position within the industry as designers and project managers. Though there are project managers out there, architects do have those skills to manage a whole project from start to finish. I’m not sure if architects always promote their skills in this area within the industry.
There is a general perception that architects are more interested in design than the management of the project. Many practices do everything that a project manager does, but they do it as part of their normal service. That’s one of the other challenges regarding fees – ensuring that the client understands the breadth of our service, that we clearly articulate the role of the managing architect. Rather than use the project management term, we use the term ‘managing architect’ for all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that we do regarding budgeting and programming and making sure it all gets done. As a practice, we still do a lot of contract administration work. There are benefits in having architects involved in that phase of the work, though I know there are a lot of people who don’t do that these days.
What are the main achievements of the branch?
We’re supporting the BIM Taskforce with the Institute to raise awareness among our members of the requirements for BIM in the future. We’re investigating what these requirements will mean for practice and how to be ready for it, should the same sorts of requirements that have been adopted in the UK be adopted here – and we seem to be going down that path. One of my colleagues at Fulton Trotter, Nathan Hildebrandt, is on that Taskforce. He’s very knowledgeable about BIM and speaks at conferences around the world, so he’s leading that charge. His main goal is to make sure that we, as architectural practices, are in the best position to start adopting BIM now so that we’re ready for it once the government introduces mandatory BIM requirements in the future.
The Salary Survey has been around for several years now. That’s an important piece of research we can do for our members, but it’s at a point now where it needs to be reviewed, updated and improved. It’s also very important that we promote this survey nationally and get as many members as possible in all states contributing to the survey.
Certainly, our branch has had a very successful structured program of events and site visits – and we continue to build on that. Our program provides our members with a variety of events and each month it provides an opportunity for us to get together for a mixture of professional development, social activity and networking. Though we’re all competitors in one sense, we’re also all in the same industry trying to achieve the same things. So, it’s important that as a profession we’re as well-educated, structured and organised as we can be.
Who are the current members of the ACA – Qld/NT branch?
Our Committee is a mixture of youthful enthusiasm and experienced practitioners. David Porgand (Peddle Thorp) will be supporting me as our new Vice President as well as our representative on the Institute’s Practice Committee. Our new Treasurer is Don Marshall (Thomson Adsett) and Don is also on the BIM Taskforce. Denis Waring (PW Architecture) is continuing on as our Secretary and works with Charmaine Kai (8i Architects) to look after Education. David Brian (dwp) manages our Events program while David Frost (Cottee Parker) looks after Industrial Relations. Kevin Gerrard (Bickerton Masters Architecture) takes responsibility for Membership, Carl Brooks (ABM Architects) manages Sponsorship and Steven Huntingford (Jackman Gooden Architects NT) is our Northern Territory representative. Finally, none of us would survive for long without the tremendous support we receive from our hardworking Executive Officer, Louise Street.
What are your future plans for the ACA – Qld/NT?
We have quite a few members who work within an hour or an hour and a half from Brisbane at the Gold Coast and northern NSW. I worked in our Tweed Heads’ office from 1999–2012 and we formed a group called BRAG (Border Region Architects Group). It was an informal collection of Institute members from the Gold Coast and Northern NSW. I would like to take some of our ACA events to the Gold Coast Tweed area to cater for these members. They would be similar to our events in Brisbane, however may only be three or four a year. I would hope that these events might interest ACA members in northern NSW, given their distance from Sydney. If successful we can also consider events at the Sunshine Coast if there is a similar demand there.
We’re also planning to take at least one or two events to the Northern Territory as well. It’s a little further away and we don’t have many members over there, but the Northern Territory is an important part of our branch. We are working with our national sponsor, Planned Cover, who is also keen to run events in Darwin to agree on the most appropriate time and event program.
We have held an event in North Queensland before, and we’d like to do one of those again if we can. We certainly have ambitions to organise more events to support members in the regions. Of course, all members around the country have access to our webinar program, no matter where they are located.
I also want to work with the Australian Institute of Architects and coordinate our efforts and our activities. The Institute’s members are individual architects and our members are architectural practices, and sometimes there is an overlap in our interests and programs. I know that there will be opportunities for us to work together at a range of different levels to benefit our members. Paul Trotter, one of my fellow Directors here at Fulton Trotter Architects, is the current Queensland Chapter President of the Institute, so we can have informal ACA/Institute meetings in our boardroom, sharing information and helping each other.
Previous branch presidents and committees have developed a strong and robust framework and my aim is to build on this over the next two years. While we will continue with much of the same work we’ve been doing, my aim is to grow and improve our services to our members both large and small. Hopefully this will allow our Branch to attract more members, get more people involved in our events, get more input and feedback from our members and to share that knowledge across our profession as we focus on the business of architecture.