Australian architects Hank Koning and Julie Eizenberg believe that architecture for daily activities should be highly valued. The duo has spent the past 30 years pioneering affordable housing, advancing community outcomes and improving countless lives through their projects. 

"Everybody is entitled to the benefits of good design," says Ms Eizenberg. "Any time to build is a privilege, not a disposable exercise." 

The pair met on the first day of architecture school and have been inseparable ever since. After finishing their graduate studies in architecture at UCLA, they founded their Santa Monica practice Koning Eizenberg Architecture in 1981. 

"There was a great sense that we could make design do more things for people," Ms Eizenberg says of the firm's origin. "In the early '80s, there wasn't much interest in affordable housing, it was a neglected area and it was pretty marginalised. But that never bothered us. Where others saw design limitations, we saw design opportunities." 

Today, alongside principals Brian Lane and Nathan Bishop, they lead a team of over 20 architects, planners and designers, working on a range of projects including the adaptive reuse of historic buildings, educational facilities and community places.  

belmar affordable apartments
Belmar affordable apartments designed by Koning Eizenberg. Photo: Eric Staudenmaier.

Mr Koning says they never sought to become pioneers, but rather, just “knew what we should be doing”.   

"In terms of affordable housing and community projects, we bought visibility to it, yes, but, we didn't do it to look like good people," he says. "We did it because those people are no different from any other client base.”

“What we try to do in all our projects is give people dignity, no matter their life situation," Ms Eisenberg says.

Collaboration is paramount to the firm. They work closely with cities and not-for-profit clients to reveal new possibilities to design housing and neighbourhood places that strengthen the community. Their works have been published worldwide and have earned more than 125 awards for design, sustainability and historic preservation.

Both Mr Koning and Ms Eizenberg are the joint recipients of the prestigious Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal, for their lifelong pursuit of social and community outcomes through architecture. 

The AIA Gold Medal recognises distinguished service by architects who have designed or executed buildings of high merit that have advanced architecture or endowed the profession in a distinguished manner. Previous AIA Gold Medallists include Emeritus Professor Alec Tzannes AM, Professor Glenn Murcutt and Jørn Utzon. 

john adams middle_school
John Adams Middle School designed by Koning Eizenberg. Photo: Eric Staudenmaier

Both Mr Koning and Ms Eizenberg delivered the latest instalment of UNSW Built Environment UTZON Lecture series, the Donald K Turner Address, and co-hosted by the Australian Institute of Architects. 

Established through the Donald K Turner endowment, the Donald K Turner Address is an annual UNSW Built Environment public lecture delivered by an eminent Australian architect. The endowment fund recognises the contribution of Donald K Turner, former Sydney Technical College architecture student, to modern Australian architecture.

Mr Koning and Ms Eizenberg’s lecture, titled ‘Improv’, characterises the art of their practice and their architectural philosophy. 

"It puts you in a philosophical position that is positively reinforcing, but also quite creative, in that you're forced to make decisions that carry an idea forward. You can't say 'no'. You have to say 'yes, and …'," Ms Eizenberg says.  

"It was the best way to describe the principles we use, and the intersection between the practice, creativity and the idea of architecture as a social medium."   

28th street supportive apartments
28th Street Apartments restoration by Koning Eizenberg. Photo: Eric Staudenmaier

Ms Eizenberg says the need for socially responsible projects is greater now because of the increasing disparity in wealth.

"There's been an uptake in consciousness that inclusive projects are solutions-based. If you take a problem like homelessness, and you build those people a home and a stable setting, recidivism and chances of going back on the street drop. If you add services to those settings, you increase the chances of people stabilised in their lives even more."

"So, if architecture and management work together strategically, we can change things dramatically."