Oswald Barnett Oration at a glance

International social housing architect, Manuel Der Hagopian recently captivated an audience at The Capitol in Melbourne where Housing Choices hosted the Oswald Barnett Oration, a flagship sector event designed to engender ideas and partnerships in the social and affordable housing sector.

Emerging and established practitioners, event partners, RMIT and the Victorian Chapter of Australia Institute of Architects were drawn to Manuel whose work spans diverse cultures and terrains including Switzerland, Vietnam, and Singapore.

Manuel urged the Australian sector to embrace thoughtful densification, arguing the benefits of community, infrastructure and sustainability. Observing the historical stigma of social housing in Australia, he pointed to the reverse in Singapore – where 90 per cent of the population live in social housing – and are so proud of it, it’s printed on the local currency.

“Every day across the world 96,000 new houses need to be built to accommodate the world’s growing population,” Manuel said.

“We need to find a way to ‘give more’ in social and public housing, not ‘give less’ in terms of amenities. People in Singapore are super proud to live in public housing.”

Architect Clare Cousins, International social housing expert Manuel Der Hagopian, Housing Choices General Manager of Property Development James Henry with RMIT Program Manager, Master of Architecture, Dr John Doyle.

Manuel was joined by industry experts, including architects and directors Clare Cousins and Amy Muir and Housing Choices General Manager of Property Development James Henry, who offered their dreams and suggestions for Australia’s social housing.

As part of a panel discussion, Clare said: “All developments should be required to deliver some social housing.”

“There’s an opportunity to innovate in social housing projects, like the ones with Housing Choices. They actually have decades of research about the needs of people they build for. For an architect, this can be very liberating,” she said.

James pointed to new government funding as an opportunity to reshape the nation’s housing sector.

“We have to leverage this climate of new investment in social housing being made by state and federal governments,” he said.

“We have the opportunity to recast the system in Australia.”

Watch the Oswald Barnett Oration here.