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They might as well cancel the Oscars

What if the Oscars, instead of being for the most outstanding performance in a category, were for something like this: “Best Actor, for the performance in a leading role that was least distinguishable from those of the surrounding cast…” Silly, isnʼt it. We wouldnʼt accord much merit to that concept at all, would we? They would be awards for mediocrity.

But that is the route we may be headed down in housing design.

These are worrying times for anyone—owners, architects, builders— aspiring to something better than run-of-the-mill housing. People committed to original, intelligent, individual residential design, face the prospect of having the bar raised so high that it is simply not worth attempting the jump. That bar is being raised on a wave of political populism that has little to do with good design outcomes. It has everything to do with taking a bureaucratic sledgehammer to bad design outcomes; avoiding the repeat of a relative handful of truly awful buildings in inappropriate suburban surroundings. But in preventing such aberrations the authorities risk condemning us all to mediocrity.

Like most industries we have our own Oscars.

These are peer awards that recognise excellence in design according to a range of criteria; sometimes size or price brackets, sometimes specific issues such as small lot size, or energy efficiency. To say that we have won more than our share is understatement. A quick look at the record shows that our company has won 55 major design awards (Master Builders, HIA and Design Council of Australia) in the past twenty years. Two words occur over and over again in the testimony of judges, and more importantly of the owners of these homes. “Light” and “space”. We achieve an exceptional delivery of light and space by an artful combination of flat and vaulted roofs.

This design approach—admired by judges and countless owners—would be doomed by the introduction of rules making town-planning approval conditional on conformity to the shape of adjacent roofs. Indeed an informal review of our award-winning homes suggests that more than half of them would not win town-planning approval under the proposed new code.

Where would cinematic standards be if directors were required by law to strive for mediocrity from their leading actors? They might as well cancel the Oscars.