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In light of rapid globalisation, architecture’s role as social, cultural and artistic expression has become secondary to its potential to generate financial return. Over the past few years, Sydney’s median house prices have skyrocketed to over $1,100,000, while the median apartment is now worth over $710,000.

According to the Demographic International Housing Affordability survey 2017, Sydney has the 2nd most expensive housing in the world (12.2x median household income), followed closely by Auckland in 4th place (10x) and Melbourne in 6th place (9.5x).

In the quest for the ever-elusive Australasian Dream of homeownership, a building is not only a means of providing shelter, it is also a source of wealth creation.

Architecture in the modern city is becoming less valued for its potential to foster community and enhance culture. It's worth is whatever someone else is willing to pay for it.

“A building is no longer something to use, but to own...once discovered as a form of capital, there is no choice for buildings but to operate according to the logic of capital" 

Reinier de Graaf, Architectural Review, 2015

 
 
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Intended to serve the needs of humanity in the here-and-now, architecture is increasingly subject to the forces of globalisation and modernity. As the sociologist Anthony Giddens suggests, modernity can be seen as a juggernaut; “a runaway engine of enormous power which, collectively as human beings, we can drive to some extent but which also threatens to rush out of our control and which could rend itself asunder… [we are] caught up in a universe of events we do not fully understand, and which seems in a large part outside of our control”. The inability to “grapple with the juggernaut” has recently played out in the global political sphere, most notably in the US and Europe, as populations struggle to reconcile their identity with a world which is becoming more standardised and less specific to local culture.

In the face of impatient global capital, architecture faces an existential threat, in both its forms as physical space and as an abstract conception of space embodying memory, culture and connection to the spirit of place. 

Yet despite these challenges, the recent influx of substantial capital to our cities has created an enormous opportunity to improve the life of the global city. Australian and New Zealand cities consistently rank in the top 10 of the world’s most livable cities, boasting relaxed urban lifestyles, excellent access to nature, diverse and tolerant societies and sustainable economic growth. 


 

While the challenges are many, the opportunities are endless. The next generation of architects must be able to navigate the complexity of the modern world and the transformative role of architecture, between what Buddhist thinker Sogyal Rinpoche calls “gaps, spaces in which profound chances and opportunities for transformation are continuously flowering—if, that is, they can be seen and seized”.

It requires architects to understand the power and limits of our own AGENCY: our capacity to steer the juggernaut of modernity to enhance the rich cultural life of our cities, ensure equitable access for all and capitalise on the boundless opportunities therein.

As the sociologist Anthony Giddens suggests, modernity can be seen as a juggernaut; 

“a runaway engine of enormous power which, collectively as human beings, we can drive to some extent but which also threatens to rush out of our control and which could rend itself asunder… [we are] caught up in a universe of events we do not fully understand, and which seems in a large part outside of our control”.

 

The themes of AGENCY2017

Agency 2017 will explore three sub-themes: Agency to cultivate, Agency to act and Agency to Catalyse. Each Session will run across a whole day and will be anchored by leading practitioners and academics from Australia, New Zealand and around the world. We are interested in the agency that architects have to encourage and ensure equitable access to the rich cultural life of the global city and its peripheries. How do we, as future built environment professionals, question the centre and boundaries of the status-quo? 

Some of the questions we aim to address include:

AGENCY to Cultivate

  1. Are the current modes of architectural education relevant to the practice of architecture?
     
  2. In a time of profound technological and structural change, is the modern architecture student fit for practice?
     
  3. What is the potential for material, computational and construction innovation?
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AGENCY to Act

  1. What is the expanding role of future architectural practice?
     
  2. Why making matters:
    Why we build, and why you should too!
     
  3. What could an architectural start-up culture look like?
     
  4. What is the value of visual aesthetic?
     
  5. What is the role of history, culture, art and ethics in the face of rapid economic change?
     
  6. Apartment Design regulations: setting standards or obstructing housing innovation?

AGENCY to Catalyse

  1. How can we mobilise capital for socially, economically and environmentally responsible design outcomes?
     
  2. Property development: myth-busting pre-conceptions of the dark side.
     
  3. How can architecture be a more equitable profession?
     
  4. Is there such thing as a 'humanitarian architecture'?