Snelling barriers at the NSW Architects Registration Board

Posted by Davina Jackson 24 March 2014

From 1952 until the 1980s, Douglas Snelling was registered to practice as an architect in New South Wales. But recent leaders of the NSW Architects Registration Board (ARB) seem to be supporting the campaign to block recognition of Davina Jackson's PhD research on Snelling's contributions to Sydney's architectural history.

Board Registrar Ms Kate Doyle, who co-managed the NSW Chapter of the (Royal) Australian Institute of Architects during the late 1990s and early 2000s, was helpful during Jackson's first year of research on Snelling in 2004. She allowed access to files of architects registered during Snelling's years of design and architecture practice; this data underpins Jackson's biography records and Chronology of Sydney Architecture 1945-1975.

But Doyle and Board president Richard Thorp now seem unsympathetic to Jackson's concerns about sabotage of her Snelling research (and other roles and projects). This was part of a black ban ('don't talk to Davina, she's dangerous!'), organised by leaders of all of Australia's architecture clubs and university faculties since her stint as editor of the (R)AIA journal Architecture Australia ended in 2000. Doyle and Thorp are in the loop of key strategists of this campaign.

One antagonist is Brian Zulaikha, a member of the NSW ARB while he was national president of the (R)AIA until 2013. His partner, artist Janet Laurence, told Jackson in 2009 that 'we can get your thesis failed'. Jackson's thesis was wrongly failed in 2010 by RMIT's School of Architecture and Design, led by the (R)AIA's national education board chairman, Professor Richard Blythe.

In an early 2012 letter to Doyle as Board Registrar, Jackson expressed general concerns about breaches of the Board-administered Code of Professional Conduct by various registered architects. Doyle replied that the Board had considered Jackson's concerns at its 19 July 2012 meeting and decided not to take action without receiving formal complaints, including statutory declarations, against specific architects.

Jackson advised that individual complaints would not be feasible because the 'anti Douglas and Davina campaign' involved political collusions dating back several decades. Jackson said she would instead publish her knowledge, for future historians to interpret.

Jackson recently was told that members of the NSW ARB were not informed of her concerns and were not invited to discuss her 2012 letter.

Doyle (advised by president Thorp and complaints committee chair Michael Bampton) initially declined to supply a copy of the 19 July 2012 Board minutes – but they later agreed to Jackson's suggestion that ARB minutes are relevant to NSW government freedom of information legislation, because the Board is supervised by a NSW Government Minister (currently Andrew Constance).

The minutes include no reference to Jackson or Snelling. Doyle's covering note says:

You will see from these minutes that they are not a verbatim record of meeting.

I raised these matters separately to the Chair of the Complaints Committee and the President.

Further, the President confirms that the range of matters raised by you was reported to the Board, as was the essence of my email to you advising of the process of making a complaint against an architect.

The Board publishes four official goals: 'protecting consumers, registering architects, informing the public, promoting architecture.' But despite its surplus of funds for cultural advancement grants, it has not welcomed the obvious opportunity to sponsor printed publications of Snelling's outstanding portfolio of Max Dupain photographs, or an illustrated version of Jackson's detailed chronology of achievements by its own registered architects over the three decades after the Second World War. Both would be useful content for a Sydney-meets-California exhibition at the annual February modernism festival in Palm Springs. Sydney cannot credibly be represented there without significant notice of Snelling.

Note: In a fact-check of the above text with the ARB, Kate Doyle clarified that she spoke about Jackson's objections to the Board at its 19 July 2012 meeting, but she did not explain why this was not recorded in the minutes. She also said that the Board (meeting 19 March 2014) decided to release the July 2012 minutes.