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Feature article
Left : Melbourne Convention Centre by Woods Bagot and NH Architecture in joint venture, photographer: Peter Bennetts. Right : Melbourne Convention Centre by Woods Bagot and NH Architecture, photographer: Peter Bennetts

OVGA Message

A normal day at the office for our small group is played out at the Old Treasury Building – one of the finest nineteenth buildings in Australia and a constant reminder of the leading role that design professionals working for the Public Works Department (such as the young architect JJ Clarke) played in shaping Victoria’s public legacy. 1

From 1855 to 1987 the Public Works Department in Victoria was responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of Victoria’s buildings such as schools, mental institutions, government offices and other public buildings.2 Public Record Office Victoria holds all the plans created by the Public Works Department and its successor, the Building Services Agency – thousands of drawings dating from 1853-1998.

How things have changed. The New South Wales Government’s recent announcement of a significant restructure of its public works department and a changing role for Australia’s oldest Government’s Architect Office (dating back to 1816 with Francis Greenway) is a sharp reminder of the current reality of public sector procurement. We are reminded once again that rather than a provider of design and construction services, government increasingly sees itself as buyer of services.3

This is has been the case for some time in Victoria with momentous changes in public service and infrastructure delivery taking place back in the 1990s and the proliferation of a myriad of building procurement models since then. A central concern for the OVGA has been how to embed design quality into the lifecycle of public projects and infrastructure from inception through delivery to occupancy and future reuse, regardless of the procurement model deployed.

The OVGA has also promoted alternative procurement methods to the Department of Treasury and Finance, such as the Smart Private Finance Initiative (Smart PFI). A PFI is the British equivalent of the Public Private Partnership (PPP). Smart PFI ensures that the public sector client benefits from design intelligence at the early stages of the project and that a realistic budget is prepared. The Manchester Civil Justice Centre by Denton Corker Marshall is a good example of where the Smart PFI was used and in which the design was procured separately from the private developer. The UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) tailored the PFI process and through a competition process sought the design upfront. This approach supported a design that met the client’s needs and saved the bidders financially. It allowed the quality of the design to be embedded before going to the market to capture the benefits of a PFI. The Smart PFI process also recommends that the public sector appoint an independent client design advisor, hired by the government agency, to assist in planning the entire procurement process and in the selection of bidders.

Unlike other states in Australia where building procurement is centralised through the Department of Treasury, in Victoria every government department has its own procurement practices. 4 This context is very challenging when it involves introducing systemic change at a whole-of-government level and requires advocacy across every department.

A starting point for any architect interested in pursuing government work is to ensure familiarity with the Construction Supplier Register (CSR), which is managed by the Department of Treasury and Finance. The CSR pre-qualifies building and construction industry consultants and contractors in a range of categories to meet the needs of Victorian Government Departments undertaking construction projects. At present the CSR maintains a number of pre-qualification categories including Pre-qualified Consultants eg architectural services, engineering services, quantity surveying. The other category is Pre-qualified Contractors eg commercial builders, residential builders, specialist contractors.

Building procurement involves not just the contractual model used but also the execution of a built project from idea to delivery and on to operation and audit. The success of a construction project is effected fundamentally by the meshing of the client’s needs and objectives with the appropriate procurement method, whether ‘Direct’ or ‘Indirect’.

The Direct Procurement process is where the government as client selects the architectural and related consultancy services independently of procurement of the building. Direct Procurement allows the government to conduct their own selection process for the design team and to engage the successful applicants directly. Examples of the ‘Direct Procurement’ process and projects include:

  • Traditional Construct Only – Suzanne Cory High School, Werribee
  • Construction Management – Sidney Myer Music Bowl Refurbishment, Kings Domain Melbourne
  • Managing Contractor – Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne Park

The Indirect Procurement process is where a developer or consortia, rather than the government, engages the design team partly or wholly. In effect, the government – as client – procures a contract that includes the design and construction costs and may also include a combination of the finance and operating costs. Examples of the ‘Indirect Procurement’ process and projects include:

  • Design and Construct – Craigieburn Bypass, Craigieburn
  • Novation – Shrine of Remembrance – Galleries of Remembrance
  • Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) – Victorian County Court, New Schools PPP, Ravenhall Prison, Bendigo Hospital, Melbourne Convention Centre, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.
  • Alliance – Hamer Hall Redevelopment, Rail Level Crossing Removals.

From such projects the OVGA has learnt, in part, the importance of ensuring that the design team is consulted for advice in the appointment and selection of the head contractor; that design champions within government departments and agencies can have a significant impact; and undertaking Post Occupancy Evaluation to capture key lessons and to inform future projects.

Good design does not just happen: it must be carefully undertaken by skilled practitioners, valued by the client and protected through the delivery of the project. Much has changed since the days of JJ Clark, however the OVGA remains committed to building procurement that:

  • delivers the best value to the government, community, stakeholders and users
  • delivers a better designed built environment and provides an enduring legacy
  • supports conservation and innovation
  • balances social, environmental, economic and cultural issues
  • provides a clear and collaborative design and delivery process 5

Sophie Patitsas, Principal Adviser Urban Design + Architecture
David Islip, Principal Adviser Urban Design + Architecture



3. Bleby, M (2015, June 10). NSW government architect to shrink with Public Works shake up, The Australian Financial Review.
4. Architecture Australia January/February 2011, AA Roundtable, Procurement: Processes and outcomes, problems and opportunities.
5. 62 ‘Government as Smart Client’, Office of the Victorian Government Architect