Current Issue #488

Made in SA vs Designed in SA

Made in SA vs Designed in SA

Should South Australia implement a ‘Designed in South Australia’ tagline?

South Australians have a good history of rallying around locally made products. Coopers, Spring Gully and Holden are good examples. For as long as I can remember, South Australia has proudly worked on strategies to ensure people know when and if a product is made right here in SA.

This is great and we should all be very proud of anything that SA has created or manufactured. It has however sparked a thought for me that perhaps we also need to implement a ‘Designed in SA’ tagline too.

I first started thinking about it after seeing tiny little words on the back of my old iPhone saying ‘Designed by Apple in California’. Now I have no idea where it was built, probably China, but certainly not in Silicon Valley. So what really matters these days — where something is made or where it is designed?

Raymond Spencer, the chair of our Economic Development Board, has given many a rousing speech about the importance of “moving up the value chain”. If buying something is at the bottom of the value chain and making it is in the middle, then designing it must be somewhere near the top; probably just below imagining it and funding it. I whole-heartedly agree with the idea that our future must be further up the value chain than mass manufacturing. The alternative is stagnation. The strength of our national economy is not likely to see large scale manufacturing resurge or return any time soon; not with many more affordable labour markets so close. Nor should we accept the idea that we must now merely be consumers to a global market.

South Australia is at the dawn of a new age that has the potential to eventually make us all wonder why we were even concerned about manufacturing winding down. To embrace this new age and thrive we must imagine, create, invest and design.

Could Adelaide become an epicentre of globally recognised design?

Adelaide rose to prosperity through agriculture and by manufacturing things of all shapes and sizes. The era of manufacturing may be winding down but that certainly doesn’t mean we will stop making things altogether. I imagine we will be making prototypes and one-off items that require the kind of precision, thought and care that we have trained ourselves so carefully for over many years.

The world will always need lots of some things and very few of others. For example, there may be millions of cars in the world but there will only ever be one Large Hadron Collider (the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator). Adelaide’s future in making things must be centred on precision and rarity. And what is the key ingredient for this? Design.

As an architect, I design buildings. With the exception of modular, pre-fabricated structures, buildings are built wherever the building is needed. An Opera House in Sydney is ‘made in Sydney’ similarly a house in Ballarat is ‘made in Ballarat’.

But everything about a building that adds up to a value greater than the cost of its materials and labour, comes from its design. Not just how it looks, but how it works and how it performs. This is not only a feat of engineering and maths but of imagination and creativity. This combination of skills is going to be fundamental in securing the future of our state.

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The industrial revolution ended a long time ago, the technological revolution ended recently and the communication and information revolution will end soon. The next revolution has already started, even if we can’t yet see what it’s all about. Perhaps it’s space. Perhaps it’s something more obscure, like ‘happiness’.

Whatever it is, it will have an epicentre, just as Silicon Valley was the epicentre of the technological revolution and with a bit of foresight Adelaide could become the epicentre of the next revolution. That is of course if we, as a state, choose to be and embrace the very ideas of change and experimentation as our new defining characteristics. It’s a bold move for a city that has historically been viewed as risk-averse and change-avoidant. Well to that I say: how many people had heard of Silicon Valley (or what the area was referred to previously) before all the tech companies got going?

Adelaide has evolved into a crucible for design talent thanks to our environmental and economic conditions. Now is the perfect time for South Australian designers to reintroduce themselves to the world and prove that ‘Designed in SA’ means something remarkable.

Gerald Matthews is Managing Director at Matthews Architects

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