After 21 years spent assessing Australia’s best developments, the Property Council’s national awards chairman John V. McCarthy AO reflects on an industry that “never rests on its laurels”.
Since taking on the task as chief judge of the Property Council of Australia /Rider Levett Bucknall Innovation & Excellence Awards in 1999, McCarthy has conducted countless site visits, burnt the midnight oil reading reams of submissions, agonised over award decisions and applauded a massive 20 Australian Development of the Year winners.
During this time, he’s watched Australia’s development industry evolve into one with a global reputation for envelope-pushing.
“Two of the great emerging issues over the history of the awards have been, without question, diversity in the workplace and the progression of the green building movement,” McCarthy explains.
“Everything is evolutionary. The greening of buildings was first seen as eccentric, and then as a minimum standard. Today any building that isn’t energy efficient is seen as irresponsible.”
Expect wellness to progress in much the same way, McCarthy adds.
“These days, the quality of a building environment demands more than just a temperature constant of 22 degrees. Landlords are making a very significant effort to ensure the environments in their buildings have the wellness factor,” he says.
McCarthy, the non-executive chairman of AEH Property, holds various corporate board positions including chairman of the Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre, and is a former national president of the Property Council.
Leading a team of 14 judges, McCarthy reviews every single entry, and visits as many sites as he can. The judging process takes around four months every year and is tremendous team effort. “It’s a labour of love,” McCarthy says.
McCarthy has judged some iconic buildings over the years, as the list of Australian Development of the Year winners attests: 30 The Bond in Sydney, Brookfield Place in Perth, ANZ Centre in Melbourne and Admiralty Quays in Brisbane among them.
“All of them still stand the test of time. They were outstanding in their own day, and they are still outstanding properties.”
Innovation breeds innovation, McCarthy explains.
“30 The Bond was so innovative it bordered on quirky. Today, when you walk through Barangaroo South – last year’s RLB Australian Development of the Year – the whole precinct is like 30 The Bond. It’s a real example of how, with time, state-of-the-art becomes routine.”
The adoption of cross-laminated timber, or CLT, at Barangaroo South and elsewhere is another example of boundary-pushing becoming best practice.
“No one was forced to use it. People went out of their way to embrace the use of this new material. And there’s no question CLT will continue to transform the construction of buildings.”
McCarthy also tips his hat to the retail sector for transforming shopping centres into “the complete offering of entertainment and excitement”, and to the residential sector for “adapting as people’s needs change”. While apartment footprints are getting smaller, the design quality gets better with each passing year, and masterplanned communities are “now villages in themselves”.
But does he have a favourite project?
“I can’t have favourites,” he says cagily.
“I think the industry has a great deal to be proud of. It’s an industry that has never rested on its laurels.”
What drives McCarthy to dedicate such time and energy to the industry’s awards for more than two decades?
“It’s been an absolute privilege. I love being part of the process that recognises individual efforts, and to reward an industry that continues to challenge itself.”
The Property Council of Australia / Rider Levett Bucknall Innovation & Excellence Awards will be held on Friday 17 May at the International Convention Centre Sydney. Tickets are available online.