Professor of Practice Philip Thalis Professor of Practice Philip Thalis

UNSW professor receives gold medal for architecture

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Ben Knight
Samantha Dunn
Ben Knight, Samantha Dunn,

Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal recipient Philip Thalis is recognised for his dedication to city-making and the culture of architecture.

UNSW Sydney Professor of Practice in Architecture Philip Thalis has been awarded the Australian Institute of Architects’ (AIA) highest honour, the Gold Medal for 2024, for his outstanding contribution to the profession.

The AIA Gold Medal celebrates architects who have made significant contributions to architecture through their designs, impact on the profession, and public advocacy.

Prof. Thalis is the founding principal of Hill Thalis Architecture + Urban Projects and has more than 30 years of experience across a broad spectrum of architecture and urban projects. His contributions also include community engagement, public lectures, research, and teaching on a wide range of environmental, transport and design issues, especially focusing on Sydney’s architecture and housing. His 2013 book, Public Sydney: Drawing the City (with Peter John Cantrill) was jointly published by UNSW.

“It’s an extraordinary honour to receive the Australian Institute of Architects 2024 Gold Medal,” Prof. Thalis said. “It’s not something I thought I would be winning, so it’s humbling to be recognised by my distinguished peers.”

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2024 AIA Gold Medal recipient and UNSW Professor of Practice Philip Thalis. Photo: Nic Walker.

In their citation, the AIA jury noted Prof. Thalis’ excellence in design combined with his policy and advocacy for the built environment.

“His active promotion of the culture of architecture and city-making stands as a beacon and shows a rarely matched dedication to the public realm,” the jury noted. “Using architectural knowledge as an instrument of change and a force for good in our cities and suburbs, Thalis is a role model for the architect as a public intellectual.”

For me, architecture must be a genuine service to society.
Philip Thalis
UNSW Professor of Practice and AIA Gold Medal recipient

Advancing architecture as a service

Prof. Thalis has taught at the School of Built Environment at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture since 2007, where he leads third year students in the ‘Urban Studio’ as part of the Bachelor of Architectural Studies. This year, his students will be challenged with designing a new urban library and public space project in Rosehill.

“With our students, we aim to develop disciplinary knowledge that isn’t simply within or limited to your experience but looks at the city across time, at multiple cities, not just in Australia, but internationally,” Prof Thalis said. “I’ve always combined teaching with practice, which is critical to enriching both spheres.

“For me, architecture must be a genuine service to society.”

The Wedge Studios transform the idea of the ‘boarding house’ into light filled, compact dwellings with heightened livability. This project received the Frederick Romberg Award for Residential Architecture in 2020. Hill Thalis A+UP with CKDS. Photo: Ben Guthrie.

Professor Philip Oldfield, Head of the School of Built Environment, congratulated Prof. Thalis on receiving the AIA Gold Medal and highlighted his dedication to his students. 

“Not only is Philip an accomplished architect and urbanist, with an innate knowledge of Sydney’s public realm, but he is also an inspiring and generous teacher to the next generation of architects,” said Prof. Oldfield. “Our students are incredibly lucky to learn from him each year.

“There is no greater advocate for the societal benefit of generous public architecture.”

Prof. Thalis’ work ranges from large-scale urban public spaces and civic buildings, heritage adaptation, to all scales of housing, especially affordable housing and apartment buildings. Some of the distinguished public projects the jury recognised for his restorative and connection-centric approach included the Linking City to the Lake and Campbell 5 in Canberra, and the Escarpment Boardwalk and Lennox Bridge, both on the Parramatta foreshore.

Parramatta Escarpment Boardwalk cycle way for Parramatta City Council cycling infrastructure along the Parramatta River foreshore that reconciles tide levels, riverside ecology and public safety. Gold Winner in the 2023 Good Design Awards. Hill Thalis A+UP with McGregor Westlake and Jane Irwin Landscape Architect. Photo: Ben Guthrie.

“My aspiration has always been to create a more informed culture of city-making and elevate the value of good architecture in a genuine, widespread, and environmentally conscious way,” Prof. Thalis said. “Architects have lacked a sufficient voice in society and city-making, as professionals we have vacated the field, allowing voluble self-interests to dominate. 

“We need to be much more engaged in the public debate and not just talking amongst ourselves.” 

Prof. Thalis maintains that architecture’s most significant duty is to serve the public interest. He says it’s essential to communicate with the public about the good and the bad of what is happening in our cities and courageously advocate for intergenerational and social equity.

Pirrama Park, Pyrmont for City of Sydney that transformed the former Water Police at Pyrmont into a cherished harbourside park. Winner of the Walter Burley Griffin Award for Urban Design in 2010. Hill Thalis A+UP with Aspect Studios and Craig Burton. Photo: Adrian Boddy.

“Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and Sydney is one of the wealthiest cities,” Prof. Thalis says. “In the environmental and equity crises we face in our cities, we can be doing much better, and we need to push our governments and public bodies to act with greater intelligence and urgency.

“Having also served as a Councillor on the City of Sydney, I’m quite happy to continue an outspoken role.

“The Gold Medal will only spur me to try harder.”