Trained as an architect in Italy, Paolo Tombesi joined the University of Melbourne in 1997 and was appointed to the Chair in Construction in 2009. Since then he has also held visiting positions at the University of Reading (United Kingdom), the University of Minnesota (United States), and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne - EPFL (Switzerland).
The overarching concern of Professor Tombesi’s work is the relationship between the intellectual dimension of building and the socio-technical aspects of its physical construction. A former Fulbright Fellow, he has a PhD from the University of California at Los Angeles on the distribution of technical design knowledge in the building industry, developed by examining the construction of Frank Gehry’s buildings.
An international authority on the industrial organisation of architectural practice and the analysis of the building procurement process, Professor Tombesi employs industrial economics, labour theory and regional development models to examine the relationship between design, technological innovation, knowledge production and building markets.
Between 2005 and 2009, he was an Italian Government Research Fellow at the Faculty of Architecture of the Polytechnic of Turin as part of ‘Brain Return’, a national programme designed to build new research capacity in the country. In Turin, Professor Tombesi led a research group investigating the procurement of iconic public buildings in Italy and across Europe.
Since 2004, he has secured multiple competitive research grants and performed refereeing roles for several national research councils. In 2007 and 2010, he was appointed as built environment expert to the research assessment initiatives of the Australian Commonwealth. He has been working as a consultant for state and federal governments as well as the Royal Australian Institute of Architects on research and heritage issues, most notably on the 2006 World Heritage Listing nomination of the Sydney Opera House to UNESCO.
Since the mid-1980s he has contributed to some of the world’s leading architectural and building periodicals. Between 1990 and 1996 he worked for the Italian architectural review Casabella, and he is currently on the editorial board of the British Construction Management and Economics. His writings have appeared in Architectural Research Quarterly, arcCA, Architecture Australia, Art China, Building Research and Information, Cartas Urbanas, Casabella, Center, Construction Management and Economics, Costruire, Domus, Journal of Architectural Education, Journal of Architectural Engineering, Journal of Architecture, Journal of Disaster Prevention, Harvard Design Magazine, Spazio & Societá and UME. In 2000, his article ‘The carriage in the needle’, on the industrial restructuring of the building and architectural sector, won the Journal of Architectural Education Award for outstanding article.
In 2005, with his colleagues Blair Gardiner and Tony Mussen, he received the Sisalation Prize from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. The resulting book, Looking Ahead: Defining the Terms of a Sustainable Architectural Profession, was published in 2007.
Most recently he has been involved in the activities of the Building Intelligence Project at Columbia University (C-BIP), and with the professional and academic scene in Sri Lanka. To date Professor Tombesi has given numerous public addresses and advanced seminars around the world, and lectured at several universities, including Harvard, Yale, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Navarra.