The inaugural Rothwell Chair Symposium will be held at the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning (SADP) in April, with the conference focussing on social and affordable housing design on a local and international scale.

Curated by SADP and 2021 Pritzker Prize Laureates Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal, the symposium will explore the topic of ‘Living in the city - exemplary social and affordable housing design.’ Lacaton & Vassal will discuss a number of their projects across the three evening sessions, with the symposium featuring Australian architectural firms and researchers, with an emphasis on engaging political, financial and planning contexts.

The symposium has been made possible by Sydney University alumni Garry and Susan Rothwell, with the Rothwell Chair in Architectural Design Leadership established through the means of a gift given to the university by the couple. The chair’s purpose is ‘to develop through architecture and urbanism innovation, the capacity to create environments which improve people’s quality of life’.

Professor Robyn Dowling, Dean of the SADP, says the gift has provided the university with resources not previously accessible.

“I am delighted that through the Rothwell gift and the involvement of Lacaton & Vassal, the School will be able to accelerate our thought leadership in architectural and urban professions,” she says.

Speakers at the symposium will include a range of personnel including Andreas Hofer, a Swiss architect and developer and director for the International Building Exhibition in Stuttgart; Christophe Hutin, an architect and curator of the French pavilion at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale; as well as academics such as Professor Nicole Gurran from the Sydney School of Architecture, Design, and Planning, who has written extensively on urban planning and housing affordability in Australia.

Renowned for their multiple sustainable housing projects, such as 530 units within three buildings at Grand Parc in Bordeaux, France, French architects, Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal were appointed co-chairs of the inaugural, three-year Rothwell Chair at the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning in 2020 to explore their topic: ‘we propose to deal with contemporary urban conditions of living in the city’.

Lacaton & Vassal want to highlight the quality of housing and ensure that it is welcoming and comfortable. They defend the principle of generosity of space as a critical condition for living well in big cities.

The aim of all their housing projects is for every dwelling to be like a villa. Through winter gardens and balconies that enable inhabitants to conserve energy and access nature during all seasons, they increase the amount of living space exponentially and inexpensively. This is the rule they apply to the creation of new housing as well as to the transformation of all existing buildings. 

Lacaton & Vassal oppose demolition, which they consider an enormous waste of energy, material and history. "Transformation is the opportunity to do more and better with what already exists," is a major value of their architectural practice.

The Rothwell Chair Symposium is live and free, and will be televised via the University of Sydney website. To register, click here.