Five Minutes With: Tim Horton – Architect and Design Advocate

Tim Horton. Photo by Brett Boardman.

For architecture to be valued more, we need to understand and measure it better.

We often think that an architect’s job has ended when the design is built. But according to Tim Horton, Registrar of NSW Registrar of Architects, that is a big mistake. It means that one of the profession’s most valuable potential sources of project analysis, the post-occupancy evaluation (POE), is undertaken after the architect’s job is ostensibly done. Is this why POEs are more likely to end up on the client’s shelves than the architects? To the extent that this is the case, meaningful feedback between users and architects is severely limited, and this is detrimental to the entire profession, says Horton. He advocates for a greater understanding of evidenced-based design (EBD).
EBD collates academic research and POE data, and then applies it to the design process. One key example is the audit on publicly funded buildings in the USA, undertaken by the General Services Administration (GSA). Horton describes how the reports analyse multiple factors: “How is this team assembled? How is the brief written? How was the funding sourced? How is the project assessed, approved, delivered? And finally, how it will be maintained?” This rigorous scientific approach then can become a powerful advocacy tool, demonstrating to policy-makers and clients the value of design. “Evidenced-based knowledge means that architects can demonstrate value and own the discussion on what makes a good building,” says Horton.
Horton believes that the profession must document itself passionately and with rigour. It must aggregate data from across a fragmented sector. “Only then is it possible that you could feed that back to the next project and end up building on successes and learning from mistakes.”
At a structural level, Horton also considers it important for architectural practices to understand how they function. “I passionately believe the profession needs to understand more clearly and more sharply how it's arranged. For example, there’s even confusion between what is an industry membership body and what is a statutory authority. We need to understand our DNA, and I don’t mean at some metaphysical level.” As an example Horton cites the National Standard of Competency for Architects, which identifies the primary activities that are fundamental to the practice of architecture. “Yet if you ran a straw poll, less than 10% of architects would know about it, and 5% would claim to have read it.” The worry is not that architects don’t meet the national standard, but that without a widely-accepted definition of practice, the profession could veer into self-interest and lack of focus.

Sydney Architecture Festival will explore the lesser known side of the Sydney Opera House. Photo by Hamilton Lund courtesy of Sydney Opera House Trust.

In a period of 27 years of unbroken economic growth and high public spending on infrastructure, some might say, if isn’t broken... but Horton considers this to be the best time to fix structural and cultural issues. “There's a unique challenge for architects in Australia, which is to make the most of the good times.”
Tim Horton is the Director of this year’s Sydney Architecture Festival, which focuses on the past, present and future of Australia’s “great” buildings. Panels and keynote speakers will present a forum of Australia’s top twenty architects, untold stories of the construction of Parliament House and new research into the building of the Sydney Opera House, demonstrating that there was ongoing collaboration between the exiled Jorn Utzon and Peter Hall. Other highlights include a panel on ethics in the age of excess, featuring Professor Flora Samuel, author of Why Architects Matter: Evidencing and Communicating the Value of Architects.
Sydney Architecture Festival runs from Saturday 29 September - Sunday 30th September. To find out more or buy tickets see here.

Those tasked with building the new Parliament House thirty years ago, will share stories of its construction. Photo by Jason Tong.

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