13 January 2011

Architecture helping communities in need

Helping meet the housing needs of vulnerable communities through sustainable design is the aim of a $600,000 research project at RMIT University.

Dr Esther Charlesworth from the School of Architecture and Design has been awarded a four-year Australian Research Council Future Fellowship for Architecture on the Edge: Designing Sustainable Housing Systems for Vulnerable Communities.

"This research will investigate the roles that architects can play in meeting the complex housing needs of vulnerable communities," she said.

"The project will look at four case studies of housing in Australia, USA, Sri Lanka and Vietnam in communities affected by social marginalisation, civil conflict, natural disaster and climate change."

Professor Daine Alcorn, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation and Vice-President of RMIT, congratulated Dr Charlesworth.

"This Future Fellowship is worthy recognition of Dr Charlesworth's excellent record of research and publication.

"This project will build on the international research linkages established by her and the broader RMIT research community."

Dr Charlesworth is currently a Senior Research Fellow (Architecture and Urban Infrastructure) working on research projects between the School of Architecture and Design and the RMIT Global Cities Research Institute.

Her key areas of research and design practice are in the fields of humanitarian design, sustainable urban design and remote Aboriginal housing.

Dr Charlesworth founded Architects Without Frontiers (Australia) in 2000, helping establish community infrastructure projects in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, in post-tsunami Sri Lanka, and for socially marginalised communities in Vietnam and South Africa.

Since joining RMIT, her projects have included:

  • A multidisciplinary design studio, Building the Community, focusing on the design and construction of housing for "kids at risk" in the coastal area of Hoi An, Vietnam
  • A partnership with the Northern Territory and Western Australian Indigenous housing departments and Indigenous Business Australia to expand the definition of "design" for Aboriginal housing to include the design of systems for consultation, procurement, training, construction and asset management
  • Leading an AHURI-funded project which developed flexible guidelines for the design of remote Indigenous housing
  • A comparative analysis funded by AusIndustry for the City of Melbourne of the design, procurement and delivery of 12 green commercial buildings in all Australian capital cities

Architecture on the Edge will involve collaboration with the Australian Institute of Architects; the universities of York and Westminster, UK; Design Corps, Habitat for Humanity, University of North Carolina, USA; the Vietnam Institute of Architects; the Sri Lankan Institute of Architects; and the American Institute of Architects.

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