Sydney Harbour lower north Shore against city CBD waterfront around Circular quay and the Sydney Harbour bridge over red roofs of low-rise residential houses in aerial view.

Sydney students take affordable housing solutions to Town Hall

1 March 2023
Designing for pressing real-world issues
A recent design studio allowed Master of Architecture students to experience the realities architectural practice and public life, culminating in a presentation to the Deputy Lord Mayor and housing sector leaders at Sydney Town Hall.

As Rothwell Resident in Architecture, Dr Michael Zanardo's role at the  Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning bridges both the academic and professional world. A registered architect, urban designer and director of independent design consultancy Studio Zanardo, his expertise in social and affordable housing design is being shared with students through a program focusing on real-world design and exposure to professional practice.

Leading the recent ‘Housing for All’ studio, Zanardo asked Master of Architecture students to explore affordable urban housing solutions in inner-Sydney. Combining historical precedents, present realities and future possibilities, the studio had its foundations firmly in real-life practice and contemporary challenges facing the city.

“I don’t really see barriers between practice, teaching and research. The students are incredibly interested in the topic of housing affordability in Sydney," says Zanardo.

"It’s an obvious issue and everyone’s thinking about it, so my research, teaching and practice are all about the question of what architectural shape affordable housing should take”.

Zanardo, who completed his PhD at the University of Sydney in 2019, has been interested in social and affordable housing for over two decades. In professional practice, much of his work has also focused on the design of such housing. 

“The best version of designing apartment buildings is social and affordable housing because you’re interested in long-term objectives and the tenants who live there. It’s about making genuinely good places for people to live and thinking about housing as infrastructure rather than a commodity.”  

The design of the studio unit, co-taught with architect Langzi Chiu, was rooted in the realities and time constraints of professional practice. The site chosen for the studio, Bay Street Depot in Ultimo, was also chosen for its real-life relevance, including its previous planning history, nearby precedents, size and its owner, the City of Sydney.

“The council itself has a rich legacy of building lots of workers' housing throughout its history. It has done it before and so the premise of the studio is to provocatively ask, what if it did so again?” explains Zanardo.

A student presenting their work to a room of stakeholders at Sydney Town Hall

'Housing for All' studio works were presented at Sydney Town Hall

Stepping into the role of the client was City of Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor, Sylvie Ellsmore, who provided a brief for the students based on the very real issues facing the city surrounding affordable housing.

The council's involvement also extended into a curated lecture series, which featured Urban Design Coordinator Jesse McNicoll, who helped develop realistic planning parameters for the project, former councillor Philip Thalis from Hill Thalis Architecture + Urban Projects, who spoke about the previous site master plan, and Dan Szwaj from TURNER, who spoke about recent affordable housing projects of a similar scale. The studio also took to the streets of Sydney, with students taking in a 16km guided walk through the history of affordable housing in Sydney’s inner-city.

The conclusion of the studio brought students face-to-face with their client at Sydney Town Hall. Here they presented their solutions to influential decision-makers from across the housing sector, including City of Sydney councillors and staff, Shelter NSW, NSW Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC), Government Architect NSW (GANSW), community housing providers and architectural practitioners.

The studio has been an enriching experience for students preparing for a career in the wide-ranging field of architecture. From the conceptual, aesthetic and historical, to research, precedent studies and technical challenges, ‘Housing for All’ has been an exciting and multifaceted opportunity for students to participate in the reimagining of housing in their city

Timothy Alouani-Roby

The Rothwell Residency program is made possible by a major gift from alumni Garry and Susan Rothwell. The Rothwell Chair program includes the Rothwell Chair appointment, postdoctoral research appointments, research scholarships and a public program inviting distinguished architects to lead student-focussed activities and/or public lectures.

Dr Michael Zanardo
Rothwell Resident in Architecture

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