Honorary doctorates awarded to leading architects

Rob Adams, Julie Eizenberg and Peter Watts were each awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Melbourne yesterday.

Rob Adams, Julie Eizenberg and Peter Watts were each awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Melbourne yesterday.

The announcement was made before the University community at a special graduation ceremony.

The Doctor of Architecture is one of the highest academic honours bestowed by the University, and recognises the substantial achievements of each recipient.

Professor Rob Adams AM is a multi-award winning architect and urban designer whose vision and drive over more than thirty years have helped to shape the city of Melbourne into one of the world’s leading examples of best practice in urban design. 

As Director of City Design, Adams was instrumental in writing and implementing the first comprehensive urban design strategy for central Melbourne. This came about at a crucial time, as in 1985 the city centre was felt to be lagging behind its counterparts in Europe and elsewhere in Australia in terms of retail and cultural activities and was looking to invest in the built environment. The strategy’s key aims were to create a vibrant and well-populated streetscape, profiting from the city’s multi-mode transport system, and Adams guided its implementation on major projects such as Postcode 3000 (bringing redundant buildings back into use, particularly for apartments in the city centre), the redesign of Swanston Street into a more pedestrian-friendly street, the QV Development, the City Square, the riverfront park at Birrarung Marr, the Urban Forest Strategy, Sandridge Bridge, the Queensbridge Precinct, the Turning Basin, East Melbourne Library and Library at the Dock, and significantly, the City of Melbourne’s own CH2 Building, the first commercial building in Australia to achieve a Six Green Star environmental rating.

Alongside these major public projects, Adams has also overseen many of the smaller details which make Melbourne such a livable city, such as opening up the laneways for retail use, installing bluestone paving, street furniture, new lighting, signage and extensive tree planting.  He has also placed great importance on the cultural and artistic regeneration of the city, and has been active in elevating the profile of the arts through projects such as Blue Line, Travellers and Birrarung Wilam, and venues such as ArtPlay (a venue for children’s art and teaching activities), MeatMarket, ArtHouse and the Town Hall Gallery.  This comprehensive revitalisation program has seen Melbourne repeatedly recognised as one of the world’s most liveable cities. Recognition of Adams’s contribution and expertise saw his appointment to the Urbanization Council of the World Economic Forum.

Adams has also had longstanding connections with education, sharing his knowledge regularly with students. He has lectured frequently at RMIT University, taught master classes at the Robin Boyd Foundation, and has been a frequent lecturer and guest critic at the University of Melbourne, where he has been a Professorial Fellow since 2004.

The impact that Adams has had on the social, experiential, aesthetic and sustainable development of Melbourne’s city centre has been recognised by the MCC’s City Design Division (under Adams’s leadership) receiving more than 150 state and national awards for design excellence since the 1980s. In 2014, the City Design Division won the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Award for its Adaptation and Resilience Projects. In 2007, Adams won the Melbourne Achiever Award from the Committee for Melbourne. In 2008 he was named as the Prime Minister’s Environmentalist of the Year and in 2009 was awarded the Sidney Luker Medal from the Planning Institute of Australia (NSW). In 2009, he won the Australia Award for Urban Design for the report, Transforming Cities for a Sustainable Future. His nationally significant contributions to urban design, town planning and architecture were officially recognised in 2007 when he was made a Member of the Order of Australia.

With her strong commitment to social equity in the community and in the design professions, her work in engaging theory with practice and her many contributions to education globally, Julie Eizenberg is a role model for women in the built environment.  With a focus on contributing to the discipline, Eizenberg and her husband Hank Koning, with whom she had studied at the University of Melbourne and at UCLA, established the architectural practice of Koning Eizenberg Architects (KEA) in Santa Monica, California in 1981.

Over the next three decades, Koning Eizenberg Architecture developed into a firm of national repute in the United States, gaining a succession of American Institute of Architects (AIA) awards for projects like the Simone Hotel (1992), the first new skid-row accommodation facility in LA in thirty years, and the internationally-acclaimed Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (2000–2005). The firm has become known for a range of project types including educational facilities, adaptive reuse of historic buildings, hotels, retail, recreational facilities, community buildings and affordable housing, establishing a distinctive and humanist approach to buildings at a time when formal considerations have claimed ground. The firm’s projects have a strong commitment to sustainable architecture, incorporating passive cooling, healthy building strategies and sustainable water technologies but most importantly with the users in mind. Writing of the work of KED, William J Mitchell observed that “they determinedly found ways to make thoughtful and intelligent architecture with the most modest of means…” Several of their projects have been recognised by the US Green Building Council with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications, including the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the largest Silver LEED Museum in the United States, and Virginia Avenue Park, Santa Monica, the first LEED accredited park in the United States.

Eizenberg’s special expertise within the practice lies both in engaging client and community bodies and in articulating the theoretical framing for their work. She has been instrumental in working with local neighbourhoods and urban authorities, not-for-profit social and housing agencies, educational institutions and private developers. Her design vision and leadership within KEA have led to the firm being recognised with over 90 awards, including 25 national, state and local American Institute of Architects (AIA) awards, and notably, the 2009 AIA California Council Firm of the Year Award and the 2012 AIA Los Angeles Gold Medal in recognition of a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture. In 2015, Eizenberg was elected to the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows, an elevation that recognises architects who have made a significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level.

Eizenberg has held many teaching positions, including at Yale University as William Henry Bishop Visiting Professor, at Syracuse University as Seinfeld Visiting Critic, Georgia Institute of Technology as John Portman Visiting Professor and at the University of Virginia as Thomas Jefferson Visiting Professor. She is also a frequent adviser to the U.S. Mayor’s Institute on City Design. Together with Koning, she has brought to American architecture a sense of ethical practice. Part of professional practice is keeping faith with a local community and this is what Eizenberg and Koning have done in Santa Monica where they have lived, worked and served for more than thirty-five years.

Julie Eizenberg has maintained strong connections to the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne. Since 1993, she has been a guest lecturer and critic in the Master of Architecture program, as well as program assessor aiding in the international benchmarking of the Melbourne School of Design’s graduate programs in architecture. In 2011, Koning Eizenberg Architecture was shortlisted in the international competition for the University’s new MSD Building.

Peter Watts spent his early years after graduation in private practice before working for the Victorian branch of the National Trust of Australia (197681). At the same time, building upon research undertaken as a student, Watts published his widely celebrated book, The Gardens of Edna Walling (1981). Working for the National Trust, he was actively involved in landscape conservation issues and the Trust’s properties. During 1978 and 1979, he undertook a pioneering survey of Victoria’s historic gardens, which was published as Historic Gardens of Victoria: A Reconnaissance (1983).  This work led to his proposal to found the Australian Garden History Society. He was the Society’s inaugural Secretary (19804), founding editor of its journal, Australian Garden History (198990), and later the society’s Chair from 1998 to 2003. Each of these publishing ventures pioneered and promoted the public appreciation of designed landscapes.       

Given these strong interests in architecture, history and gardens, combined with his passion for heritage, Watts was led to the Historic Houses Trust of NSW in Sydney. Founded in 1980, he became the Trust’s inaugural Director in 1981. Under Watts’s directorship, until his retirement in 2008, it grew to become a dynamic cultural and research institution of national significance, one of Australia’s leading museum bodies. Managing properties such as Elizabeth Farm, Government House (Sydney), the Museum of Sydney, Hyde Park Barracks, The Mint, Rouse Hill House and Farm, Vaucluse House and the Rose Seidler House, the trust, now renamed as Sydney Living Museums, received over 120 awards for architecture, conservation and design during Watts’s tenure. Watts moulded the Trust into a new form of cultural institution that was firmly rooted by the historic buildings it cared for but was always outward looking and daring in their interpretation.

During his tenure at the Historic Houses Trust the organisation held hundreds of major exhibitions; published almost 100 books on NSW social and architectural history; developed public programs including the development of Sydney Open, which has become a major annual celebration of historic and contemporary architecture in Sydney. The Trust also built one of the finest libraries in the country devoted to Australian domestic architecture, gardens, interiors and furniture.

Peter Watts has been the Project Director for 14 projects that have received awards in the Institute of Architects annual awards including a Sulman Award for Public Architecture, three Greenway Awards for Conservation, three National Lachlan Macquarie Awards for Conservation, a Lloyd Rees Award for Urban Design, an Architecture and Media Prize and a Premier’s Prize.

His last major development project at the Historic Houses Trust was the conservation and redevelopment of The Mint in Macquarie Street, Sydney – the oldest building in central Sydney – which received both the Institute of Architects Sulman Award for Public Architecture and also its Greenway Award for Conservation, the first time a single project had received this dual honour. This was an affirmation of his long held view that the best of conservation philosophy and practice could marry with the best of contemporary architecture.

Throughout his career, Watts’s expertise has been in demand on various boards, trusts and committees with interests in conservation, museums, architecture, design, the arts, and gardens, including the Official Establishments Trust (2002-14), the National Art School (2008–12), the Bundanon Trust (2009–15) and Company B Belvoir Street Theatre (2001–07). Watts contributed 26 years (1982–2008) as a member of the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD).

In 2003, Peter Watts was awarded the Baudin Medallion from the Republic of France, and in 2008 he was awarded the Royal Australian Institute of Architects President’s Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Architecture for his role as a client and patron of architecture. His nationally-significant contributions to the cultural heritage and architectural and historical landscapes of Australia were officially recognised in 2007 when he was made a Member of the Order of Australia.

Image: Peter Watts, Julie Eizenberg and Rob Adams at the ceremony held in the Royal Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne. Courtesy of Donald Bates.