Architects of ‘congeniality and wit’ win Institute’s highest honour

Australian expatriates Hank Koning and Julie Eizenberg – who have led a movement of architect-designed social housing and community-focused projects in the United States – have been honoured with the nation’s highest architecture prize, the 2019 Gold Medal.

Announced today at the Australian Institute of Architects’ National Conference, the directors of Los Angeles-based Koning Eizenberg were lauded for their service to the profession through social outcomes combined with design excellence.

Hank Koning FRAIA and Julie Eizenberg RAIA have worked on affordable housing, education and civic projects, often in underprivileged communities, for almost four decades.

Their community-first design ethos has resulted in landmark buildings including the Simone Hotel and 28th St Apartments that offer supportive housing in Los Angeles and community buildings like the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, and Pico Branch Library in Santa Monica. The recently completed Geffen Academy at UCLA offers a new secondary school paradigm and the upcoming Student Pavilion at the University of Melbourne will be the firm’s first project in Australia.

The jury has described their work as having ‘an egalitarian generosity of light, scale and air, all imbued with Australian congeniality and wit’.

‘Their efforts have transformed the lives of those they have touched – by providing meaningful and respectful homes, they have also brought these communities into the spotlight so that other firms may now consider designing for them a worthwhile pursuit,’ the citation said.

Institute Immediate Past National President Clare Cousins paid tribute to Mr Koning and Ms Eizenberg for the high quality of their work, built on their social beliefs and strong principles.

‘Throughout their careers and long before it was mainstream, Hank and Julie worked relentlessly to improve social and community outcomes through effective design,’ Ms Cousins said.

‘Working mainly in areas of need, Hank and Julie created appropriate and respectful homes for people who were not widely considered in the design world.

‘They took on complex and difficult challenges and now have a legacy of meaningful projects that have transformed individuals’ lives and the communities around them.’

The Institute’s Gold Medal recognises the distinguished service of architects who have designed or developed buildings of distinction and advanced the cause of architecture.

Koning and Eizenberg completed their initial architecture studies at the University of Melbourne, before moving to the US in 1979 for graduate study at the University of California, Los Angeles.

On their graduation in 1981 they established Koning Eizenberg in Santa Monica and started undertaking projects that challenged the notion of what social housing and educational buildings could be. Together they built a practice that supports the design of sustainable neighbourhoods through the creation of schools, housing, and civic buildings.

Their work is underpinned by their belief in social interaction and its benefit on daily life.

Ms Cousins said the work and ethos of Mr Koning and Ms Eizenberg had inspired subsequent generations of Australian and international architects to work on projects of social value.

Mr Koning and Ms Eizenberg also advocated for improved planning and engagement processes throughout their careers, and educated the profession and other urban policy professionals through ongoing learning. Their practice was also a trailblazer for sustainability.

Mr Koning has been a committee member of the Institute’s International Chapter since 2010 and has been active in its development.

The Gold Medal jury comprised Ms Cousins, Richard Kirk, Peter Elliott, Emma Williamson and Kerry Clare. Previous recipients of the Gold Medal include Glenn Murcutt, Jørn Utzon, Brit Andresen, Harry Seidler and Robin Boyd.