We’ve come so far, so far

Quite often, we regional architects find comfort and inspiration in being part of Australia’s popular coastal fringe. It is after all where Australia’s population is most concentrated and, therefore, where the bulk of clients are wanting to build. It’s only natural then that the Australian Industry of Architects (AIA) would host their annual Country Division Conferences at some exotic seaside town or resort, especially when it’s held during the spring school holidays and partners and children are encouraged to come along and join in on the celebrations.

So, it was with great excitement and breath of a different fresh air that in September 2015, for the first time in decades, Australia’s oldest inland city, Bathurst, played host to the annual AIA NSW Chapter Conference.

Bathurst’s incredibly rich and diverse architectural heritage combined with contemporary developments in sustainable and ‘green’ building design was the perfect backdrop to this year’s theme of history helping to inform the future of great architecture.

The delegation of over 80 architects, 10 sponsors, 20 partners and children from all over NSW descended on Bathurst to explore and debate how we can utilize the past to develop the present.

With ten keynote speakers and an exciting social program, Bathurst surely topped the conference register and proved that an inland city can offer as much activity and eye candy as our coastal cousins.

And what would a country architectural conference be without the creative involvement of home grown Bathurst-based architects, integratedDESIGNgroup.

A big thank you to Tony McBurney, Andrew Elia and the integratedDESIGNgroup team for all their efforts in putting this great event together. As proud advocates for regional development and being local “Bathurstians”, integratedDESIGNgroup was extremely excited by the event and the opportunity to share with fellow architects the value inland towns can bring to future progress for community building and place making.

Our speaker program and topics centred around practical examples of architecture and its impact on inland regional Australia.

Many inland country towns believe that good architecture and access to experienced architects is out of reach for many. This conference however attempted to prove and debate that we’re here to stay and invest if need be.

Robert Morris-Nunn’s presentation on exploring regional responses to historical settlements via concept, politics and outcomes on day 1 help set the scene on what can be achieved in remote country locations. Carolyn Stalker followed shortly after with a fantastic look at what’s being achieved in large inland cities such as Townsville. David Travalia delivered an insightful analysis of the importance of local observation and the role of identity and Tony McBurney looked at the role regional architects can and are playing on a global stage.

It was also an opportunity to showcase the value of Bathurst and the Central West region as a potential holiday destination. On show was a visit to Abercrombie House, a bush walk to Evans Crown, a tour of Mayfield Gardens in Oberon and an experience or two of the area’s many culinary and artistic credentials. If anything, it’s fair to say that many visiting architects and their families were pleasantly surprised by the richness in diversity, population and growth potential of the region, even if there wasn’t a beach in sight.

Challenge for future NSW Chapter Conferences is to find ways we can actively engage the public in the discussions and messages we’re trying to broadcast. For regional development to grow in momentum we need to better engage an audience that doesn’t normally speak our language. Next time, let’s present more to the world outside than to the micro world within. Whilst we attempted to involve the people of Bathurst in our activities, better preparation and investment in marketing is required to convince more people of the value in needing to attend an event traditionally designed for architects.

Yes, the fireworks on opening night did help to raise some awareness, but it’s a long road ahead.