Australia's National Architecture Awards: a rise in standards

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The Independent Online

The Australian Institute of Architects said after last week's award ceremony that the country's commercial projects demonstrated a noticeable rise in standards.

"The popular palaces of culture - the cinemas, stadia, and pubs and clubs - have, in recent years, rarely presented themselves as high architecture," the jury said in a release after the award winners were announced October 29.

But, according to the institute, things are different this year. Recognizing buildings such as the new complex for retail company Sussan Sportsgirl in Melbourne by Durbach Block or the Bendigo Bank headquarters in Victoria by BVN Architecture + Gray Puksand, the jury said that they "set new benchmarks in terms of providing exemplary 'social' spaces, adaptive re-use, regional architecture and staff accommodation where 'happiness' is acknowledged as a business asset."

The most prestigious among Australia's leading architecture awards, however, the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture, was awarded to the National Portrait Gallery by Sydney-based practice Johnson Pilton Walker while Melbourne's new center for the performing arts, the Melbourne Recital Centre and MTC Theatre Project by ARM, was honored with the Emil Sodersten Award for Interior Architecture.

Commenting on this year's winners, jury chair Howard Tanner said: "2009 represented a strong year for architecture, with new benchmarks set in a number of key categories - such as commercial architecture. In public architecture, educational projects spanning primary to tertiary facilities were also outstanding, with many Australian universities now comprehending the need for world class facilities to attract students."