Our ninetieth year and the history that shaped us
After a tumultuous year, the value of our architectural community is evermore evident. This year, 2021, is a very special one for the Institute, marking our ninetieth as a national professional collective with a global reach. Celebrations commenced on 18 November 2020 and will continue throughout the year.
Writing my fourth foreword on this auspicious date and reflecting on the history that shaped us, I contemplate the first general meeting of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) in 1930, which formalized a marriage between separate state institutes.
Between 1871 and 1903, each of the states founded its own architectural institute. By the “Roaring Twenties,” all were well-established, financially sound, and firmly constituted. The idea of federating, first mooted in 1887, was formally proposed in 1914. From 1915 to 1929, the Federal Council of the Australian Institutes of Architects worked towards permanent federation.
By 1926, a draft proposal required voluntary liquidation of each state institute, with assets and liabilities being transferred to the federal body. In 1929, the assistance of Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) president Sir Banister Fletcher (author of the architectural history tome) was sought in procuring the prefix “Royal,” which George V granted the following year.
Final agreement was reached on what has become our birthdate.
This memorandum, with some signatures now so faint they are barely legible, is proudly displayed at our founding national headquarters in Canberra. Three principal documents were adopted from the state institutes: the Code of Ethics, the Competition Code, and, to ensure the profession’s continued survival, the Scale of Minimum Professional Charges.
Two state institutes, Western Australia and Victoria – who were already permitted to use “Royal” in their names – resisted federation. By contrast, Queensland was so enthusiastic that they accidentally signed the proposed Memorandum of Association in 1926; had this been registered, 10 Queenslanders might have founded the (R)AIA. Some states worked with alacrity to dissolve current institutes and start their state chapters: New South Wales led in 1934, followed closely by Queensland (1935) and Tasmania (1936). Western Australia held out until 1943 and South Australia until 1962. Most recalcitrant was Victoria, remaining independent until 1967. By then, the ACT Chapter had been created and an area committee inaugurated for the future Northern Territory Chapter.
Each state’s existing institute had a formal seal, all beautiful emblematic designs revealing how they viewed architecture. Proposals to merge these into a national seal were fiercely debated. Sidestepping potential angst, the new
RAIA seal (donated by the Queensland Institute) was based on the RIBA’s, with a pair of kangaroos emulating lions and an Anzac-inspired “rising sun” backdrop. These artifacts and more will be celebrated in this ninetieth year.
Launching our ninetieth anniversary celebrations, I acknowledged Traditional Custodians and paid respect to past, present and emerging Elders, who nurtured our remarkably beautiful landscapes for many millennia. As we reflect on what has come before us, my own thoughts dwell particularly on architecture’s doyens, rightly recognized as repositories of our profession’s wisdom and knowledge. My personal aim is to encourage and foster opportunities for our greater membership to engage in meaningful interaction with these members, and to propose that fledgling architects record oral histories with the profession’s sages.
Of particular note is Beatrice Hutton from Rockhampton, whose application to join the Queensland Institute sailed through without debate or controversy in 1916. By default, she became the first female member of an Australian architectural institute because New South Wales had rejected Florence Taylor’s 1907 application on gender grounds.
In its ninetieth year, the Institute remains an association of people combining two fundamental qualities: a diverse and inclusive dedication to betterment of the built environment; and the education, training and experience to fulfil that ambition. We may all share an immense pride in celebrating this milestone of our professional collective, with its strong history, glorious past and promise of a magnificent future.
Finally, this issue announces the winner of the AA Prize for Unbuilt Work. Many architects lament an unrealized project, but an inspired design is no less worthy when frozen in words, drawings and models. I am delighted that Architecture Australia has delved into this important topic, not least because “Lost Opportunities” will be a focus of our ninetieth-year symposium.