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Architect, interior designer and academic Cathy Smith has been named as the inaugural recipient of the Turnbull Foundation Women in Built Environment Scholarship.

The Turnbull Foundation, at the initiative of Lucy Turnbull AO, Chief Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission, established the UNSW Sydney scholarship to help increase the number of women in leadership roles in the built environment industry.

Worth $95,000, the scholarship supports professionals to undertake postgraduate study at UNSW’s Faculty of Built Environment and, importantly, includes participation in UNSW’s Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) Women in Leadership Program.

Ms Turnbull announced the scholarship winner at UNSW’s annual Engaging Women in Built Environment networking event last night. The event, initiated by Built Environment Dean Professor Helen Lochhead, aims to increase the number of women in leadership roles by 50% within the next eight years.

“It gives me great pleasure to announce Cathy Smith as our scholarship winner,” Ms Turnbull said. “Cathy is a spectacular architecture academic who is particularly interested in the boundaries between community-led interventions in public spaces and institutional interventions, which is an area that particularly fascinates me.”


Architecture academic Cathy Smith accepts the Turnbull Foundation Women in Built Environment Scholarship. Photo: Stephen Pierce

Dr Smith, who is a senior lecturer in the School of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Newcastle, will use the scholarship to develop her research around grassroots-driven urbanism – particularly those instances where local residents create temporary interventions, projects or events to improve their built environment and communities.

“I’m thrilled to receive this scholarship from the Turnbull Foundation,” Smith said. “I’m interested in that ‘transition moment’ when community-orientated urbanism and sanctioned forms of development intersect. My thesis aims to highlight the challenges and productivity associated with this intersection and how they are both critical to the construction of the 21st century city.”

Smith is also a passionate advocate for equity and gender diversity within the architecture profession and is currently working with the NSW Australian Institute of Architects Education Committee to develop a national survey addressing these issues within Australian Architecture Schools. 

“The interaction between the issues of ethics, women and city making is of particular interest to me. I would like my interdisciplinary research to positively contribute to this area.”

Smith said she was at a key moment in her career where it was possible to advocate for change in the built environment industry.

“I’m balancing family life with work so I’m very aware of where to put my efforts,” she said. “The scholarship will allow me to study, reflect and chart the future of my career in a strategic way.”

Ms Turnbull was appointed Adjunct Professor at UNSW Built Environment last year and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Business by the AGSM. She established the scholarship in March to help talented women accelerate their career development and leadership capabilities.

“Women increasingly are instrumental in shaping our cities through the planning, design and construction industries, but more often behind the scenes,” Ms Turnbull said at the time.

“The key is to move more women into leadership roles where they can have a seat at the table and tangible impact, shaping not only the form of our cities but the way they are made, and play a greater role in identifying great urban form and design that is also feasible and practicable to deliver.”