Carter Williamson Architects

Shaun talks at UTS on the future of the profession

Thank everyone for coming and thank you Tarsha, Anthony and UTS for inviting me to talk to you tonight.

I would also like to acknowledge Joe Agius, Immediate Past President of the Australian Institute of Architects, and a director at COX

Also to Ben Hewett: Recently returned to NSW as the Director of Strategic Service, NSW Government Architects office. Coming from a very successful time as South Australian State Government Architect and Ben is also an Adjunct Professor here at UTS.


UTS is my Alma Mater. I started here in 1988 studying a structural Engineering degree, when university was free. I came back to UTS in ‘99 to study Architecture. Gaining my degree in 2005.

The topic of discussion for tonight’s talk is ‘The Future of the Australian Institute of Architects’ – A great conversation to have. But let me start with a proposition. The future of architecture is bright, and getting brighter. Architecture is rising not declining…and the quid-pro-quo is that Architects are rising, and are not in decline. In quality or professionalism. And I would contend, the Institute is RISING. The institute is made of and for the profession. The profession is our members, we are the sum total of our membership. Now, I am a glass half full person. I think many architects are. I think we need to be. I have heard about decline / contraction / reduction, the loss of professional standing…but I don’t see it.

I tell you why.

  • When I started in architecture, most work feel within a 5-7km radius from the GPO, today it is more like a 12-15k’s radius from the GPO.
  • The newsstands had only 5-6 magazines featuring architecture, now there seems to be hundreds.
  • TV shows like Sandcastles, Grand Designs, The Block didn’t exist.

And whilst I grant you, many of these don’t display high architecture or necessarily involve a high level of architectural discourse, they do foster a conversation about design and its value within our communities.

  • These days I get five architecture emails delivered to my inbox each day:
    • Designboom,
    • Architizer,
    • Dezeen,
    • Contemporist &
    • Archdaily,

Informing me about the architecture of today from here and all over the world. Sure, I seek out this information, but it exists where once it didn’t, and some of these webzines have huge followings.

  • On Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest I see a boom in the consumption and conversation about architecture
  • When I started in architecture SEPP65 didn’t exist. It’s just now going through a review after ten years of application….that’s ten years of architects designing apartment buildings, when before SEPP65 that wasn’t the case.

All this at a time when Sydney is turning from predominantly a metropolis living in attached or freestanding dwellings, to apartment living.

Architects are re-shaping the dwellings most of us will live in.

  • At the last census 26% of Sydney’s population was living in apartment buildings. With the population rapidly rising that percentage is careering towards 50%.
  • Last year approvals for apartments exceeded those for free standing or attached housing.

All of these designed by architects.

  • The City of Sydney has and reinforces a design excellence policy:
    • That requires design excellence competitions based on budget and height,
    • and dangles a carrot to developers to push for a better standard of architecture.

I have personally worked on a project like this, where the City is pushing developers and their architects to do better. This is happening NOW.

I also see the rise of architecture as branding. Take for example our UTS. UTS has transformed itself in the public’s mind with the Gehry building.

  • When I started here in the late 80’s you never saw an image of UTS as a building.
  • Sydney University had its sandstones….
  • UNSW its grand axis, resplendent with a new architecture school and the Scientia building
  • UTS had its 3 letters, in gold font. Not a building insight.

Yet in a masterstroke UTS decided to invest in architecture, perhaps as a branding exercise as much out of need and I now see the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building everywhere I go. Add to that the:

  • gateway of the Broadway with the DCM building framing one side and Jean Nouvel the other,
  • or the stunning Durbach Block Jaggers & BVN building….

And right away we can see the results of high quality architecture helping reshape the view of the university in people’s minds. The young upstart is now the University on everyone’s lips, it is new, modern, cutting edge…..interesting. And there is more.

  • AMP wit their impressive 3XN tower.
  • Architectus and Ingenhoven at 1 Chifley,
  • 8 Chifley with Rogers & Ed Lippman,
  • Piano & Aurora Place,
  • Foster’s Deutsche Bank and Apartment at Town Hall.
  • Hassell’s new Martin Place tower,
  • FJMT’s recent ANZ tower and public realm,
  • Neeson Murcutt’s Sulman award winning, Prince Alfred Park pool

Even the more controversial projects like:

  • Barrangaroo and Darling Harbour with a collection of architects that would make most peoples top 15.

And, we are only weeks away from the announcement of the winner of an international design competition for the $500 million extension of the NSW Art Gallery

I’m sure I’ve missed many more examples beside. No doubt the Australian Institute of Architects Awards program will showcase some of these and some I have forgotten to mention. For me, this is seriously impressive. Seriously impressive architects making seriously impressive architecture. So, despite my the rose coloured glasses of my sunny nature, it seems the hard cold facts supports my thesis that architecture is in good health and getting better.

So, I hear you ask. How does this translate to the future of the Institute. Let me tell you a bit of my backstory about how I got involved with the Institute.

Years ago my small practice had eight buildings locked up in the Council approval process and I couldn’t get them out for all sorts of crazy reasons. In frustration I reached out to a local AIA network, IWAN.

  • I quickly learned the power and the comfort a professional organization gave a small practitioner
  • I also learnt that I had to get involved if I wanted to make these poor council planning processes better.
  • I saw that as architects we had a special skillset and that if I could use that as part of a political process, perhaps architects could help change the system

From there I sought election to the NSW Chapter Council of Australian Institute of Architects in order to engage more broadly with the profession and stakeholders that helped form and shape architecture. For me, it was like the old JFK quote –  “ Ask not what architecture & the Institute could do for me, but what we could do together.” I firmly believed that I had to get involved to be part of the conversation, to improve the conversation.

So back to the question, what is the future of the Institute?

The future of the Institute is YOU. We are a membership-based organisation. We are only as good, and as effective as our membership. But let me be more specific. The NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects is in rude good health.I am fortunate to have worked alongside two very good presidents. I started on Chapter Council with Matt Pullinger, and with Joe Agius, our Immediate Past President.

Both of these Presidents have carried the institute forward. They have worked hard to get the Institute back at the table of power. Sitting in on meetings with:

  • the Minister for Planning,
  • the Department of Planning,
  • Urban Growth
  • Infrastructure NSW, and many more

Both left Institute in a stronger position than when they took up their post.

The Insitute has active and energized committees working across the field of architecture. Committees, Task Forces & Sub groups working on the issues of:

  • Practice
  • Gender Equity
  • Awards
  • Continued Professional Development
  • Heritage
  • Honours
  • The Built Environment
  • Education (chaired by UTS’s own Dr Kirsten Orr)
  • Sustainability
  • Design Culture
  • Editorial
  • Networks
  • Membership

We have SONA & DARCH sitting on our Council, taking care to nurture our future.

We have an active and engaged Country and Regional Divisions that also sit on Chapter Council.

The NSW Chapter has been a national leader. We are fortunate to have members who believe passionately that they can play a part in making architecture better, that they can help make an incremental difference in the work-life of architects. The NSW chapter has led the charge nationally on crucial initiatives over the years. CPD and Gender Equity are the latest in a long line of initiatives we have driven from NSW. Just this week I was at the Institute to help launch the new mentoring program. The program has over 100 participants and about that many more that missed out on this round of mentoring. The mentoring program is another example of on the initiatives of the Institute to help nurture our young architects; and to pass on the life experiences and vital skills that will help them in their careers.

I am pretty sure there were more women than men involved. A great result. But it can always be better. The Institute is made up of people and as people are not perfect, neither is the Institute.

I ran on a platform for the Presidency. I wanted to be a big target in this world of ever increasing small target politics. I wanted to make public the ideas I have and things I want to achieve in the role. I am happy to be judged on how effective I have been as a President by what I have achieved. If I fail, or fail in too many areas, I deservedly will be remembered harshly. But if I don’t I believe I will have done what Joe and Matt before me did, left the place in a bit better shape than when I got it.

My election Platform was:

  • Equity
  • Advocacy, and
  • Membership


Gener Equity is a crucial issue that we as a profession fundamentally need to deal with. I’m sure many of you are familiar with Parlour and the hard data they have published on the state of women in our Profession. It is SHOCKING.

More than a year ago Callantha Brigham, Joe Agius and I helped form the Gender Equity Task Force. Tarsha is one of our members. The taskforce is an extraordinary group of women and men, giving up their time to put action to the problem of gender inequality to forever change our profession.

GET has recently launched our Male Champions of Change program. An Elizabeth Broderick Initiative. The taskforce have invited nine practice Directors, nine men from Sydney’s largest forms to become Champions of Change. To become a Champion of the profession they have to put in place initiatives that address gender equity within their sphere of influence…most likely their workplace. Joe Agius is one of our future champions. Why Men, I hear you ask? Because men invented the system, men largely run the system and if men don’t help change the system women go backwards.

I personally feel like there has been a fundamental shift in the profession. I have had people say to me, women included: “ Shaun, I feel like the Institute is taking this seriously.”

And lets not forget Gender Equity is also about men.

  • Men can also benefit from flexible work hours,
  • Men can also be primary carers,
  • Men can participate more fully in their families development
  • Men can challenge the status quo of work place culture.

I personally prosecute another of Elizabeth Broderick’s statments: “ 50 percent, if not why NOT”. We, as the Institute should strive for 50% female representation on our:

  • Council
  • Our awards juries
  • Our committees
  • And everywhere we form a group within the Institute.

 There will be no artificial criteria that form barriers to our good women taking their rightful place within the Institute and in time, our profession.


We as an organization are strong together. The more members the Institute has the more weight we have in the industry and society. The more relevant we are the more attractive we will be to architects and architecture. And as a membership organization, we should NEVER forget the members.

The Institute needs to explain to the members the value of membership.

  • We need to explain to architects and architecture what they get for their membership money:
    • The benefits they receive,
    • The services they receive,
    • The savings they get.

One of the big initiatives has been to take Chapter Council on the road. We had our first ‘road trip’ visit just this month. We took Chapter Council to the members. This time, to the Inner West Architects Network.

This is a listening tour. We hope to go to our members and hear their ideas and their complaints, but also to tell them what the Institute does; to explain to the members the value of membership. I invite you all to attend our Chapter Council meetings on the road. The next one will be held at Hassell’s studio.


I understand that advocacy has two parts; advocacy within the profession and advocacy without. Advocacy within requires the Institute to be engaged with our members, to talk to them, to tell them what we are doing. But also requires us to listen.

Coming here today is what I would call advocacy within.

Advocacy without is to reach beyond the profession. It is our Outreach. It can be as simple as articles in the newspapers, TV or online. Not long into Joe’s Presidency he wrote an article that made the front page of the Herald, he was trending on Twitter, he was fighting for and on behalf of members in the protection of the public Interest. I  had people come up to me and say: ”now, that’s why I am a member of the Institute”. A real and tangible benefit from being a part of the Institute.

I also believe the Institute needs to move further and faster into social media platforms like :

  • Twitter,
  • Instagram,
  • and Facebook

These platforms are ready made for architecture and architects.  I’m a twitter junkie. I follow many of NSW architects on Twitter where conversations of about the built environment and public interest are had daily. Social media also allows us to support our members and to be in constant contact with our membership.

It doesn’t matter if you are in :

  • Small practice or
  • Large practice
  • In Balmain, or
  • Byron Bay
  • at home or
  • at work

Advocacy without, I believe, also means I need to get out and meet with as many stakeholders as I can. In these past 2 months I have racked up a sizable coffee bill and a mild caffeine addiction.

I have met or am meeting with:

  • The Minister for Planning,
  • The Department of Planning,
  • The Government Architects Office,
  • The ARB,
  • The ACA,
  • The AAA,
  • The AACA,
  • Urban Growth,
  • Infrastructure NSW,
  • PIA,
  • ALIA,
  • The Urban TaskForce,
  • Consult Australia,
  • The Property Council,

And, this is a segue into the final topic I want to talk about tonight, and perhaps what Tarsha was getting at with the discussion.

What would I like the future of the Australian Institute of Architects to be? Naturally, I want it to be all that I have mentioned tonight, but I also want it to be more. I want architecture to be more inclusive. I want the Institute to embrace all people who:

  • love,
  • identify,
  • follow,
  • work in,
  • work beside,
  • advocate for, and
  • make architecture happen
  • to be part of the Institute.

 I want the definition of architecture and what it means to be involved in architecture to be broader.

I believe that the Institute is more effective if we form strategic alliances with related and interested organisations. We can’t do it all, but if we help others to achieve it all, then that is a great outcome for our members. I hope to broaden our membership to include those who have studied architecture, or who are architects. People from:

  • Project Managers
  • To Design Managers
  • Developers
  • Those working in government, local government, state government
  • Finance
  • Any organization what so ever.

These people will likely have more power and influence over architecture than those working within the design field. I hope to bring them into the tent, to encourage them to try and push for a better design, to be more creative in their thinking. It would be a great outcome for the Profession and also the Institute.

I see a great future for the profession and the Institute.

I see everyone here tonight as the future of the Institute.

Thank you for listening.

Shaun Carter, Wednesday 13th May, University of Technology, Sydney.

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