Property Australia

Towards trustworthy buildings

Karen Jamal Karen Jamal July 27, 2021

NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler OAM is on a mission to raise the standards of building across the state. With a new regime for multi-unit buildings starting on 1 July, how will you step up?

The Design and Building Practitioners Act introduces changes to the residential building industry to restore consumer confidence and deliver trustworthy buildings.

Safe as houses was once a term that spoke volumes about reliability and trustworthiness, but in recent years “we have put that at risk,” Chandler says.

Appointed inaugural NSW Building Commissioner in 2019, Chandler is determined to “reverse the construction confidence crisis”. He is leading an ambitious transformation agenda that integrates construction’s moving parts: standards, regulation, education, risk management, procurement and a complex supply chain.

New South Wales now has audits of occupational certificates and mandatory minimum design documentation, but legislation alone will not be enough to deliver trustworthy buildings, Chandler warns. Industry capability building is mission critical and construction professionals will need to upskill.

More than a decade of under-investment in skills development across a range of disciplines has led to horror stories on building sites across the state, he says. Of the 500 buildings surveyed by the Strata Community Association over the last six years, more than a third (36%) had serious defects. The three biggest “fault lines” were waterproofing (25%), fire safety systems (15%) and structural defects (10%).

Chandler has personally conducted more than 65 site inspections and has more than 5,000 images of serious defects. These fall into three categories: poor attention to products and materials; disregard for design so shortcuts can be made; and no one taking responsibility for the ‘whole of structure design’.

“Consumers contract for a whole building, not its parts. The lack of multi-disciplinary design integration is the single biggest problem we have – the cancer that has eaten away at confidence in the industry.”

It could take universities up to five years to refocus their education on multi-disciplinary design skills, Chandler says, which is why the Property Council Academy is launching a new course, developed in collaboration with Woods Bagot, to fill the gap.

“This Property Council Academy course is so important. We need to rebuild the conversation about multi-disciplinary design integration – starting first with design practices as a priority, and then universities.”

Digital capabilities will be fundamental, but Chandler rejects the idea that design integration is a matter of “pressing the BIM button”. He points to one recent survey of 575 builders, architects and designers working on Class 2 residential buildings in New South Wales. This found less than five per cent of designers use building information modelling. “A core capability is missing – and that capability is multi-disciplinary design integration.”

Trustworthy buildings are the endgame, rather than simple compliance. “Quality is a choice; trustworthiness is a right.” Chandler offers a clear definition of a trustworthy building: one that doesn’t harm people in its making or its use, either economically or emotionally. “The public has the right to walk down the street feeling confident that buildings won’t harm them.”

Chandler has worn a lot of hats in his 40-year career: builder, chief executive, trouble-shooter, professor and industry commentator. His fingerprints are on some Australia’s most iconic developments – like Parliament House in Canberra and Quay Apartments in Sydney – and he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his services to the construction industry in 1989.

Despite his considerable achievements, Chandler is not resting on his laurels. He is famed for his “hissy fits” on building sites, he admits, because “it really irks me when I see people harm the profession”. He points to Australia’s proud history of builders who have crossed his path over the course of his career: William Kell, LW Giles, AW Edwards, AV Jennings and Sir John Holland. “These were proud traditional builders. They were practitioners, leaders and carriers of the industry’s ethics – and they are my benchmark to this day.”

Find out more about the Property Council Academy’s new two-hour Multi-Disciplinary Design Integration course, developed in partnership with Woods Bagot, and register your place today.