“What an example. What a tour de force. What a life. What a loss. Game set and match Dr Phol.”—Richard Leplastrier.


The tributes are flowing fast and frequent for renowned Australian-architect, Indigenous housing expert and housing equality campaigner, Paul Pholeros who passed away on 1 February at the age of 62.

The architecture community took to social media yesterday to express their grievances and to pay their respects to one of the most important figures in activist architecture Australia has ever seen.


Pholeros was the co-director of Healthabitat, a not-for-profit organisation he founded with Dr Paul Torzillo and Stephan Rainow in 1999, which developed the now much-celebrated and highly successful Housing for Health (HFH) model for indigenous housing equality.

HFH was conceived as a mechanism to tackle the spread of sickness among Aboriginal people in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara lands in north-west South Australia. Healthabitat figured that fixing problems with badly built houses like poorly installed showers, kitchens, toilets, laundries and electricity could help reduce the rate of hospital admissions due to infectious diseases. The effect of the HFH model was profound.

As of June, 2015 it was estimated that Healthabitat had improved more than 8000 houses and the health of more than 50,000 Indigenous Australians. A survey by the NSW Department of Health also showed a 40 per cent reduction in hospital admissions in infectious diseases attributed to environment in the communities Healthabitat had worked in.

HFH was so successful it was also exported. Pholeros and his team at Healthabitat have since provided similar services to communities around the world including sanitation programs for Nepalese, Bangladesh, South African and Papua New Guinean villages, and a HFH project in Brooklyn New York.


A Life Fellow of the Institute, Paul Pholeros, along with Healthabitat, was the winner of the UN Habitat and Building and Social Housing Foundation’s 2011 World Habitat Award.

He was also appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2007 for “service to the community by improving the living conditions and, consequently, the health of Indigenous communities through the design, development and improvement of housing and the surrounding living environment and working with, and creating employment for local Indigenous people.”

Beyond the influx of social media tributes, members of the Australian Institute of Architects, including National President Jon Clements, 2014 Gold Medallists and friends Phil Harris and Adrian Welke of Troppo Architects and Richard Leplastrier, 1999 Gold Medallist, also paid their respects yesterday in a special press release from the Institute:

“This is a very sad time and great loss for our community,” reads the statement from Clements.

“With his unwavering commitment to improving the lives of those living in disadvantaged communities around the world through his award-winning health and sanitation programs, Paul has long been a source of inspiration to us.

“Anyone who had the opportunity to hear him speak about his work, could not help but be moved, changed in some fundamental way.

“His exceptional work has made valuable impact in Indigenous and disadvantaged communities across Australia and around the world from Johannesburg to New York and will leave an enduring legacy on those who were fortunate enough to meet him and those who benefitted from his generosity.”

Harris and Welke add:

“In the politically charged world of Indigenous affairs, Paul never stepped back from simply telling it straight. As the best architect should be, he was a champion for his client. He was our mentor, our guide, and always our friend, with a twinkle in his eye and a self-deprecating quip at the ready.

“It is impossible to imagine his lean and taught bower and studio high on Bilgola Plateau – the platform refuge shared with his partner Sandra – without his big presence. It was here, between months on the road, surrounded by bush and a big view, he would recharge, to continue his polite but unwavering 30 year battle against the antipathy and prejudice that precludes our first Australians in sharing our society’s riches of housing, health and education.

“The torch will be carried on, for he has taught us well – but how well and with what authority is the question, and, for all of us, our individual challenge.”

Leplastrier also shared his thoughts:

“Dr Phol as he was lovingly known to so many of us, realised from the youngest age as a student that Aboriginal culture and the land was the spiritual backbone of this country.

“From that time on, he unrelentingly pursued its sustenance through his brilliant work with Indigenous communities. The background financial support for his Healthabitat practices has been provided by a series of small, modest beautiful buildings done by him over the years … thus showing us an exemplary ethic. What an example. What a tour de force. What a life. What a loss. Game set and match Dr Phol.”