The University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning is hoping to use a “significant” endowment to shake up architectural education by bringing high-profile, practicing, national and international architects into the architecture studio.
The endowment, which is of “significant” but unspecified size, comes from architect Sustan Rothwell and property developer Garry Rothwell.
“This is really a pretty big kind of thing,” said John Redmond, dean of the School of Architecture, Design and Planning. “This is not just a normal chair, it’s a whole program that they’re funding.”
Redmond said that the Rothwells approached the university with a number of concerns about recent trends in Australian architecture. Among these was a frustration that a string of recent, prominent architecture competitions held across Australia had resulted mostly in winners from large international firms.
“In the past, young architectural practices often went in for these competitions and that was how they got started,” said Redmond. “They’d win and they’d build their practice from there.”
“What we’ve seen instead [since then] is the big national, and often international practices winning them.”
While Redmond acknowledges that this trend is partially the result of a variety of structural and economic factors, the Rothwells also questioned whether architectural education in Australia puts architects-in-training in a good place to have a proper go at significant design competitions.
“They also felt that maybe studio education in universities wasn’t empowering these students enough in design. It wasn’t giving them […] the level of innovation that would allow them to be winners.”
Redmond hopes that the program might help to reconnect the academic architectural research done in universities with the work done in professional practice, something he observes as having suffered in the past few decades.
“The fundamental issue is that architecture suffered in the modern research university,” he said. “If you looked around at professional programs about 40 to 50 years ago – ones like architecture, law and business – you’d find that most of the staff members were basically practitioners that might have spent half of their time in the industry and half of their time in the university.