A number of documents exist that outline the process that must be followed to meet the obligations of a competitive design process or design competition where this is required, these include; the Director General’s Design Excellence Guidelines (2010), Parramatta City Design Excellence Competition Guidelines and the City of Sydney Competitive Design Policy, among others. Triggers for design competitions and competitive design processes vary across jurisdictions but are typically associated with height, site area, capital investment value or location (a ‘key site’).

Projects following a State Significant Development approval pathway may also have competitive design process requirements called up in the Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs), where there is a statutory requirement to do so, for example through a relevant LEP or SEPP.

Most LEPs and SEPPs, and by extension SEARs, refer to the Director General’s Design Excellence Guidelines, which provide guidance around the purpose of a design competition and describe the processes applicable. Please refer to the GA NSW website for the most current information on the status of the Director General’s Design Excellence Guidelines.

Design Excellence and design quality

In addition to describing requirements, the term ‘Design Excellence’ is often also used within LEPs and elsewhere to describe an expected or required level of design quality of a competed building or project. In these cases the definition of Design Excellence is fairly consistent across planning legislation where it is often summarised as “. . . the highest standard of architectural, urban and landscape design”.

More recently, Design Excellence has been used within statutory regulations to describe or trigger other processes, including review of a project by an established Design Review Panel, or establishment of a Design Integrity Panel. These processes often result from a request to waive the requirement for a competition and are then referred to as “alternative design excellence processes”.

In summary

  • Design Excellence is a term used to describe a variety of requirements intended to lift design quality, as outlined in statutory planning documents such as LEPs and SEPPs
  • It is most commonly used in relation to a single building or development.
  • Design Excellence usually refers to a competitive design process but has also come to be used to describe the design quality of a final building or project.

Design Excellence and Better Placed

Better Placed sets a standard for the whole of NSW. This includes projects that are required to undertake a Design Excellence process and the many that do not.

  • Better Placed is an aspirational set of objectives, championing good design processes and outcomes across all project types and scales. Design Excellence is a specific process linked to statutory planning requirements and is typically directed at large or significant projects.
  • LEPs, SEPPs and competitive design guides provide minimum requirements for assessing Design Excellence. Better Placed offers a set of objectives that are holistic and aspirational with a wider focus for people, communities and the benefit of NSW.

History of Design Excellence

‘Design Excellence’ emerged as a term in the year 2000 in the City of Sydney where it was used to describe an optional competitive design process to be undertaken at the concept design stage of new projects in return for additional Floor Space Ratio or height. The initiative was applied to any development exceeding 55 metres in height or with a site area larger than 1500 square metres. The competitive process was aimed at both lifting the design quality of significant buildings and diversifying the field of architectural practices engaged in their design.