Since 2016, the UNSW Engaging Women in the Built Environment event has celebrated the achievements and diverse career paths of trailblazing women in the field. This year was no exception, with a philanthropic gift from the late Associate Professor Anita Lawrence adding to the excitement.

Announced at the event by Professor Helen Lochhead, Dean of UNSW School of Built Environment, Associate Professor Anita Lawrence (BArch '55) generously donated $2.3M to the School of Built Environment in her will, to enhance expertise in architectural acoustics. Professor Lochhead noted the funds will sponsor PhD students undertaking research in high performance architecture and provide support for leading academic staff.

Associate Professor Lawrence was not only generous but a woman who achieved many notable ‘firsts’. She was the first woman to receive a University Medal from UNSW in 1955, she was granted a Bachelor of Architecture with First Class Honours, and she was the University’s first female graduate in Architecture.

Following these accomplishments, Associate Professor Lawrence went on to complete a 32-year teaching career at UNSW where she specialised in acoustics and design.

A believer that all built environment professionals should understand and value the practice of acoustics, she once said, “a person’s experience of a building can be drastically altered by bad acoustics – it’s imperative that architects, builders and landscape architects understand the importance of achieving optimal sound in a room or building.”

In 2015, the School of Built Environment honoured Associate Professor Lawrence by establishing the Anita Lawrence Chair in High Performance Architecture, later appointing Professor Mattheos Santamouris as Chair.

An expert in energy physics, Professor Santamouris is highly researched in sustainability, technology and the invention of low energy materials. For the past five years, Professor Santamouris has provided students with a distinctive and highly relevant skillset, enabling them to deliver more sustainable and liveable architecture.

After dedicating more than three decades of her professional life, endorsing young women in architecture and contributing to many years of research, Associate Professor Lawrence’s final gift will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the future of architecture by supporting new opportunities for research and education in this important area.

“We plan to honour Anita Lawrence’s legacy by establishing a new area of research focused on minimising the intrusive impacts of noise in the built environment through innovative acoustic design,” says Professor Lochhead.

“It is critical that our built environment, from interior spaces to urban spaces, is designed to manage environmental factors that affect our comfort whether heat, air quality or noise. Excessive and unwanted noise affects not only our productivity but also our health, well-being and enjoyment of urban life. It’s a growing area of concern in our cities that needs to be tackled.”