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International disaster risk-reduction expert Professor David Sanderson has been appointed the inaugural Judith Neilson Chair in Architecture at UNSW.

The Chair, the first of its kind in Australia, was established earlier this year with a $10 million endowment from philanthropist and White Rabbit Gallery founder Judith Neilson. It aims to lead research and education to support disadvantaged communities displaced by natural disasters, geo-political conflicts, socio-economic exclusion and environmental factors.

As a conservative estimate there are currently over 50 million people globally facing significant disadvantage and an uncertain future. 

Announcing the inaugural recipient of the Chair, Dean of UNSW Built Environment Professor Alec Tzannes AM said Professor Sanderson will help position UNSW as a centre of excellence in Australia and internationally for architecture focused on social purpose.

“Professor Sanderson will lead the new specialisation in our Master of Architecture program, Architecture and Social Agency. His expertise and academic leadership will enhance UNSW’s capacity to meet an important strategic commitment to improve the lives of people and their communities through our academic endeavours. We welcome David to our faculty and UNSW,” Professor Tzannes said.

“The Judith Neilson Chair and UNSW Built Environment are committed to improving people’s lives through knowledge exchange and engagement as well as by delivering graduates with a passion to make a positive difference in the world through their careers as architects, planners, construction managers and designers,” said Professor Tzannes.

“The University is honoured to be entrusted as the custodian of Judith Neilson’s vision to advance knowledge in architecture and to promote the education of future generations of architects.”

Professor Sanderson is currently based at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology where he specialises in urban disaster resilience and humanitarian aid.

Having trained in architecture at De Montforte University and Oxford Brookes University, he has worked with international aid agencies in development and disaster risk reduction for the past 20 years including with CARE International UK as Head of Policy and as Regional Manager for Southern and West Africa.

Prior to that Professor Sanderson worked at the Oxford Centre for Disaster Studies and at Oxford Brookes University as Director of the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice. He was also a Visiting Professor at Harvard University from 2013-2014.

Professor Sanderson holds a PhD in urban disasters and livelihoods and is a Visiting Professor at Université Paris-Est Créteil in Paris. He teaches annual courses at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, EOI Business School, Madrid, Oxford Brookes University, Université Paris-Est Créteil and Universita della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano. He is also an Editor of PLoS One: Disasters and Jamba Journal.

“The need has never been greater to address the challenges faced by people caught up in poverty, conflict and disaster,” Professor Sanderson said.

“Architecture can play a central role in meaningfully engaging is these issues, through social action, critical engagement, building evidence of what works, and above all, prioritising affected people.”

Professor Sanderson will take up his position in February 2016.