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An underground residence and research facility for scientists at Lightning Ridge connected by a web of tunnels is just one of the award-winning designs on display at UNSW’s Luminocity exhibition. 

Luminocity, which opens tomorrow, is UNSW Built Environment’s annual showcase of student and alumni works from all program areas, ranging from architecture and city planning to construction management and industrial design.

Penny Fraser was awarded a prestigious Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) award for her design Earth and Sky, an underground, sustainable residence and research facility for earth scientists and astronomers visiting Lightning Ridge, an opal mining town in north-western New South Wales.

Working at an on-site studio with Pritzker Prize-winning architect and UNSW Professor of Practice Glenn Murcutt, the Architecture student designed the building below ground so that it didn’t interrupt the view of the horizon.

“Murcutt taught me the importance of incorporating place, its relevance and the history of an area into my designs,” Fraser said.

“According to Indigenous beliefs, Lightning Ridge is where the rainbow connected with the land and created the opal, but now the land is shaped by human intervention and mining.”


Earth and Sky, Penny Fraser's award-winning design for an underground residence and research facility for scientists at Lightning Ridge.

Fraser said she tried to reflect these competing histories by keeping the accommodation underground so that it didn’t disrupt the landscape, and used tunnels to mimic the mining history of the area.

Her charcoal and ink sketches impressed the AIA judges who awarded her with the top honour of First Degree Design Award in May this year.

The AIA annual awards were established to acknowledge excellence in architectural scholarship, showcasing the top student work across the four architecture programs in NSW – The University of Newcastle, The University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney and University of Technology, Sydney.

“It was a massive shock to win but also a fantastic feeling to finish my degree on such a high note after endless hours working on my design,” said Fraser, who is now enrolled in a Master of Architecture at UNSW.

UNSW Built Environment Dean Professor Helen Lochhead said Luminocity was an opportunity to showcase the diverse achievements of programs across the Faculty.

“It is one of my favourite annual events for this reason, profiling both the depth and breadth, and core attributes of our graduates,” she said.

Luminocity curator Dr Alanya Drummond said she was struck by how collaboratively Built Environment students approached their learning experience.

“Even though the Faculty houses a wide range of programs, the models in the exhibition share a common design approach that is rigorous and reflective of deep interdisciplinary knowledge. It’s clear that this cohort of students will work effectively with their peers in the built environment to produce better places for our future."

What: Luminocity Exhibition of student and alumni works

When: 24 August - 3 Sept, 9am-5pm

Where: Gallery, Ground Floor, West Wing, Red Centre Building, UNSW Kensington Campus