Call for greener plan­ning

The new RAIA pres­i­dent won’t win in­stant friends among bu­reau­crats with his call for a longer- term plan­ning out­look, Sue Wil­liams re­ports

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Prime Space -

THE new pres­i­dent of the Royal Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects is un­likely to win many pop­u­lar­ity con­tests with gov­ern­ments. And that’s not just the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment ei­ther; he also has his sights firmly set on the state and lo­cal tiers.

But Alec Tzannes isn’t in the game win­ning fair- weather friends.

He’s far more in­ter­ested in push­ing for change within gov­ern­ment, to en­sure the en­vi­ron­ment has a far greater profile in plan­ning de­ci­sions in the fu­ture, and ar­chi­tects have much more of a say.

‘‘ This is a time in his­tory when we have to re­write our plans for the fu­ture and re­draft our cul­tural frame­work,’’ he says.

‘‘ We have to re­de­fine the pub­lic do­main that we need and want, to cre­ate en­vi­ron­ments that are both sus­tain­able and beau­ti­ful.

‘‘ We’ve known this now for many, many years, but now gov­ern­ment is lis­ten­ing. We need big changes, but at some point we’ve got to in­tro­duce them. Oth­er­wise, there’ll be even big­ger prob­lems in the fu­ture.’’

No one could ever ac­cuse Tzannes, 56, of aiming too low. Not only does he want to en­gage politi­cians at ev­ery level with his vi­sion of an eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able fu­ture for our cities, he also wants to make sure they un­der­stand how vi­tal it is to re­draft the en­tire sys­tem of plan­ning pro­cesses to en­sure it can be­come a re­al­ity. He’s mak­ing some head­way, too. The RAIA is cur­rently in talks with the fed­eral De­part­ment of Fi­nance and Ad­min­is­tra­tion about how they could be­come a bet­ter ar­chi­tec­tural client, and the po­si­tion of gov­ern­ment ar­chi­tect has been re- cre­ated in Vic­to­ria, Queens­land, West­ern Aus­tralia and the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, while it’s be­ing strength­ened in NSW.

It’s all very well in­di­vid­u­als and ar­chi­tects tak­ing to heart so many of the con­cerns about cli­mate change, be­lieves Tzannes, but it’s gov­ern­ment where the real power re­sides.

Only they have the ca­pac­ity to tear apart the old ways of mak­ing de­ci­sions about what’s needed and where, and ar­chi­tects have the real re­spon­si­bil­ity for show­ing them how.

‘‘ Lead­er­ship is a hard one be­cause gov­ern­ments of ev­ery per­sua­sion and at ev­ery level have cho­sen to aban­don their re­spon­si­bil­ity as the cus­to­di­ans of the pub­lic do­main,’’ says Tzannes.

‘‘ They have pri­va­tised it and gone into pub­lic- private part­ner­ships with of­ten dis­ap­point­ing re­sults. They’ve built in­fra­struc­ture

of poorly — when did any­one last look at the wa­ter sys­tem? And the pub­lic trans­port sys­tem makes its users feel like third- rate cit­i­zens.

‘‘ But who else is there to cre­ate an au­then­tic, vi­able pub­lic do­main, and man­age it prop­erly, if not gov­ern­ment?’’ It’s hard to ar­gue against Tzannes. Af­ter 30 years as an ar­chi­tect, the first six of them as an as­so­ci­ate with Glenn Mur­cutt and the last 24 at the helm of his own firm Tzannes As­so­ciates, and with nu­mer­ous awards to his name and an ex­tra­or­di­nary ar­ray of homes, pub­lic works and com­mer­cial build­ings across the coun­try, he knows what he’s talk­ing about.

In his own ca­reer, be­fore tak­ing over as pres­i­dent of the RAIA at the end of May, he proved his worth at mak­ing sus­tain­abil­ity con­cepts cen­tral to plan­ning.

Some of his best- known projects in Syd­ney in­clude Aria Restau­rant, the Fed­er­a­tion Pavil­ion and Fed­er­a­tion Place in Cen­ten­nial Park, the new se­nior school, ju­nior school and gym­na­sium at St Catherine’s School, Waverley, the Fort Deni­son Restora­tion and Cafe, Bistro Mon­cur and Wool­lahra Ho­tel.

He also un­der­takes ma­jor ur­ban de­vel­op­ments such as the Carl­ton and United Brew­eries mixded use mas­ter plan at Broad­way, just on the out­skirts of Syd­ney’s CBD.

In Melbourne, there’s the Wa­ter­mark Apart­ments, in South Aus­tralia the Parker Win­ery, and there’s the Com­mu­nity Cen­tre for the Aged at Rivett in Can­berra.

Na­tion­ally, two of his res­i­den­tial projects — the Snelling House and Hen­wood House — have re­ceived the na­tion’s top res­i­den­tial award, the RAIA Robin Boyd Award, in 1997 and 1988 re­spec­tively, and he was run­ner- up on two other oc­ca­sions.

As a re­sult, many of his projects have been widely pub­lished in mag­a­zines and jour­nals in Aus­tralia and over­seas, and he is reg­u­larly in­vited to ex­hibit and lec­ture, as well as to com­pete in de­sign com­pe­ti­tions.

Fel­low ar­chi­tect Richard John­son of John­son Pil­ton Walker Ar­chi­tects is an ad­mirer.

‘‘ He al­ways pro­duces mar­vel­lously well­con­sid­ered work that’s beau­ti­fully crafted and fits into the con­text ev­ery time,’’ he says.

‘‘ He’s one of those rare ar­chi­tects where I’ve seen a lot of his work and never seen a thing I didn’t like.’’

With 60- 70 per cent of Tzannes’ 50- per­son prac­tice in­volved with res­i­den­tial and mixe­duse de­vel­op­ments, he has ended up with some big high- profile jobs.

Love it or hate it, one of his best- known projects is John Sy­mond’s house at Point Piper, Syd­ney, which is es­ti­mated to have cost more than $ 50 mil­lion to build, and is among Aus­tralia’s most ex­pen­sive pri­vately owned homes.

Sy­mond, the Aussie Home Loans founder, also rates his work very highly. ‘‘ Alec is a man of great ar­chi­tec­tural in­tegrity, who ad­heres to his de­sign prin­ci­ples but has the flex­i­bil­ity to adapt to the wishes of his clients and the chal­lenges faced in each project,’’ he says.

‘‘ He has a very strong mind­set, but is creative in the ways he adapts his classical ar­chi­tec­tural think­ing to­wards his work. I be­lieve his body of work will be viewed as a very im­por­tant chap­ter in the his­tory of Aus­tralian ar­chi­tec­ture.’’

So when Tzannes an­nounced a sab­bat­i­cal from his work to con­cen­trate on the RAIA pres­i­dency, he’s quickly proved a for­mi­da­ble fig­ure, both to chas­tise gov­ern­ment and to urge politi­cians to change their ways.

With a steely de­ter­mi­na­tion hid­den be­hind a soft, gen­tle man­ner, he’s push­ing for all the old ways of mak­ing plan­ning and de­vel­op­ment de­ci­sions, in which en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns were merely an af­ter­thought, he says, to be scrapped.

In their place, he sug­gests a frame­work of leg­is­la­tion which moves sus­tain­abil­ity to the fore­ground, with all other con­sid­er­a­tions fan­ning out from that core.

‘‘ Some of th­ese mes­sages I’m talk­ing about are a long way from be­ing heard, like this rewrit­ing of the le­gal and plan­ning frame­work,’’ says Tzannes.

‘‘ But hope­fully not too long. I would say it’s a 10- year project, max.’’ He smiles. ‘‘ I’m very op­ti­mistic.’’

Pic­ture: Lind­say Moller

Sab­bat­i­cal: New RAIA pres­i­dent Alec Tzannes wants en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity in the fore­ground of plan­ning de­ci­sions

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