How many integrated designers does it now take to change a light bulb? I ask as I ponder life after the South Australian Integrated Design Commission.
So, what next for design in Adelaide? Have we reached our design zenith now that the words ‘integrated design’ are no longer government-sponsored?
One wonders about the rationale for the decision to abolish the SA IDC. In many ways, perhaps our well-intentioned friends in the former commission overstepped the mark too quickly. Perhaps the bigger, better-resourced government departments (let’s say the people with the power, resources and influence) that are responsible for spending taxpayers’ hard-earned folding stuff sought a respite from being told what to do by the IDC too earnestly. And perhaps once too often.
Or perhaps it was more simplistic: one administration (Rann) became another (Weatherill), and sought to rebrand a more voter-focused and listening approach to governing the state. I remember the announcement to establish the IDC on Boxing Day in 2009, down by the tree in Glenelg. With much fanfare, and an earnest and welcoming (if a little sceptical) design community rushing to support a new model for design in government, it was a monumental day for design in South Australia. Here we had a government showing political vision (not to mention calculated courage) to integrate the benefits of design into the top levels of a state administration.
Headline act, nationally significant
This was a headline act, and nationally significant. To see its demise is saddening, and not just for Adelaide … there are many others watching to see what happens from the other side of the Great Dividing Range.
Also gone is the much under-valued Thinkers-in-Residence program, which had a longer history and breadth of thought. Another unfortunate cutback, in my view. After all, the Thinkers program, headed by the amazing and talented Gabrielle Kelly, created the space for thought about integrated design in this state.
So, from emergence to the gallows for integrated design – all from a left-of-centre government in a matter of years.
I think the model for the Integrated Design Commission was spot-on, apart from one important detail – its structure. Placing it within the Department for Premier and Cabinet was always a risky strategy. The IDC was effectively placed in direct competition with the infrastructure and development mechanisms of the state – the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI), Urban Renewal Authority (URA), etc – and over time this became obvious – especially to the design professions who have to be nice to everyone.
There appeared to be a battle between power and influence.
Design-focused strategies important.
Design-focused strategies and master-plans are the essential roadmaps for our cities. Often they are more important to the political process than anything else, because without support from the powerful positions in government they are effectively useless, though often beautiful, things. Look at the Port – aren’t we up to Master Plan No. 9?
The biggest issue we face now is working out if there are any lessons to be learned. There is no doubt we have a strong legacy to build on the work of the IDC, but we must address the fundamental flaws of the model and create a – dare I say it – more integrated one.
The first thing to do is create a more collegiate and workable atmosphere within DPTI and URA (the appointment of Fred Hansen as CEO of the new URA is a critical first and positive step) to encompass the former roles within the IDC.
Our new bastion of all things design is Ben Hewett, the current Government architect. He will now be working within a new structure somewhere else in the administration, essentially restarting a process that began two years ago when the IDC was established.
As the wave of shock and awe that resulted from the abolishing of the IDC starts to retreat, emergent and opportunistic ideas and actions are forming for design to continue as a force in government decision-making.
Strategies are never fixed; they’re always changing, and at the whim of our political masters. Project delivery is something that governments are always undertaking, and there are many smart and intelligent people currently doing this within DPTI and URA, as well as other departments. It provides the chance for the design-focused and savvy among us to meaningfully engage with those charged with executing the state’s complex and ongoing projects across the board.
Better engagement with government and professions
The design community needs to consider better engagement with the people in government who need our assistance – the project directors, managers, procurement advisers and Treasury officials who have probably been over-lectured on the benefits of design.
There is also a much-needed opportunity to better connect with other professions – engineers, in particular. I’ve always said landscape architects have more to gain (and lose) from engineers than our collegiate friends, the architects.
The mechanisms for engagement ahead of us include using the design, planning and engineering institutes to lobby and connect more effectively with government. Our cousins in the Property Council and the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) do this well (albeit with a more cashed-up membership base), and there are others who should also be involved, including the private practices and local government.
For a while, there will be a vacuum, which will be difficult to fill with ‘fresh’ air while we work out if we are further behind than where we started or whether we have moved forward. But I am optimistic. I have to be. We have to support whatever is shaken out of the system and pick up the pieces ‘moving forward’.