Chief architect to sooth the city

By Shane Scanlan

CBD residents can expect newly-appointed Victorian Government Architect Jill Garner to be a moderating influence on the frenzied development cycle within the city.

The Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA) is enjoying upgraded status and independence, having been moved from the planning department into the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The office’s advice will be sought by Planning Minister Richard Wynne when assessing planning applications.

Ms Garner told CBD News that Melbourne enjoyed the status of being Australia’s only real residential city.

“This extraordinary position brings with it great responsibility for our design and construction industry,” she said.

“It is a significant responsibility to ensure change in our built environment is never dictated purely by economics, but is always overlaid by deep considerations about the quality of place.”

Property Council executive director Jennifer Cunich has cautioned the OVGA about concentrating on design at the expense of affordability in its pivotal role in the Government’s current review of apartment standards.

“The current review has been widely panned by industry as being too focused on design minutiae at the expense of housing affordability,” Ms Cunich told CBD News.

“There is no point imposing the highest apartment design standards in the world if only the rich can afford to live in them.”

“We look forward to working with Jill on delivering new design standards which every Melburnian can afford.”

Ms Garner responded by saying that affordability was too complex an issue to be simply solved.

“It is not simply correlated to providing better amenity as has been suggested, and the solution does not lie in cutting a site into smaller and smaller components,” she said.

“International examples suggest different development models, different financing methods, different precinct-based design solutions – all innovative thinking – might contribute to ease the tension.”

Ms Garner’s appointment by Minister Wynne on October 27 has been welcomed within the architecture community.  She was previously acting in the top job and had been Associate Victorian Government Architect since 2010.

Being the co-founder of a modest suburban practice, her credentials are both academic and practical.

“I am gratified by the feedback I have received across both industry and government as to my fit for the role,” she said.

She said she loved detail, understood construction and the “real contingencies of building”.

“I love and appreciate beauty, excellence and skilled performance in various domains,” she said.

But she said her personal aesthetic would not govern her advice to government.

“Despite personal preferences, the Government Architect’s role is one requiring judgement and perspective,” she said.

“It is important not to jump to conclusions, and to maintain the capacity to change one’s mind in light of convincing evidence.”

Ms Garner said she recognised and appreciated the move to higher density living.

“We are in a period of significant population growth and change, and statistics show that much of our community is ready to embrace an alternative, denser type of home than we have come to expect in Victoria,” she said.

“Research (such as the work of the Grattan Institute) also suggests that some sectors of our community cannot find the new type of home they have in mind.”

“I believe this is an issue that has a design-based answer, yet to be fully explored locally, and I look forward to the OVGA being a supportive advocate for excellent examples of higher density housing.”

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