On 28 February, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal handed down their ruling in relation to the 2014 Lacrosse building fire in Melbourne.
Judge Ted Woodward ordered the builder, LU Simon, to pay more than A$5.7 million in damages to apartment owners.
However, the architect, fire engineer and building certifier who worked on the project will pay most of that to LU Simon, after Judge Woodward found they had breached contractual obligations.
Fire engineer Thomas Nicholas was ordered to pay 39 per cent of the damages, building surveyor Gardner Group 35 per cent and architects Elenberg Fraser 25 per cent. The builder is liable to pay 3 per cent of the damages.
The Australian Institute of Architects said the decision highlights the paramount importance of people’s safety in the built environment.
National President Clare Cousins said the Lacrosse fire has been a catalyst for important reviews into building regulation in Australia and their recommendations should be adopted.
“[The] VCAT ruling underscores that people’s safety must be of paramount concern in our buildings,” Ms Cousins said.
“It reinforces the need for reform to prevent a repetition of this type of event – or worse – in future.
Ms Cousins said this is a landmark decision with significant ramifications right across the building and construction sector.
“The Lacrosse fire alerted government, regulators and industry in the starkest terms to the dangers of aluminium composite cladding.
“It prompted multiple examinations into the safety of our buildings, not just here in Melbourne but right around the country.”
Last year’s Shergold-Weir report, Building Confidence, identified serious failures that are jeopardising public safety.
“We want to see measures put in place to rectify these failings and we repeat our call for governments to implement, in a nationally consistent way, every one of the 24 recommendations contained in that report.
Ms Cousins said like any other industry, building design and construction is constantly evolving and innovating, both in terms of practices but also the materials used. Therefore, the regulatory environment and the building practitioners who operate within it, including architects, must keep pace with these changes.
“That’s why we have been calling for the registration and regulation of other building practitioners in the same way architects have been for decades.”
Ms Cousins said the implications of the VCAT decision for the architectural profession will be carefully reviewed. It highlights a number of critical issues that have been a growing concern for architects for some time.
“Among these is the issue of non-conforming and non-complying building products and the issue of product substitution which formed the basis of a Senate Economics References Committee inquiry in 2017 that the Institute was actively involved in.”
“Changes to procurement practices and other factors have introduced a higher degree of risk in an already fraught environment and we are continuing to build the case for change on this front,” said Ms Cousins.
“The safety and quality of our buildings must be prioritised above cost alone – doing otherwise should no longer be countenanced as a viable option.”