Experiments in Public Housing

Presented by Melbourne School of Design

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In this intimate talk, architectural historian and theorist Karen Burns explores the Victorian experiment in public housing of 1979 -1989.

In 1979 after a Royal Commission and another inquiry into the Housing Commission of Victoria, the public housing agency stood at a historic crossroad. Politicians contemplated the closure of the state’s public housing program but instead returned to renew the agency, its design approach and its relationship with tenants and local housing providers. Across the regions, suburbs and the inner-city streets and allotments, new public housing rose. It was low-scale, designed by architects and self-consciously local in its references to the street, neighbourhood and historic context. The new Ministry’s research, design and media campaigns aspired to take the stigma away from social housing. This remarkable experiment lasted from 1979-1989. This Design Week event will discuss this little documented episode in our recent history and the urgent need for designers and design researchers to re-engage with public housing as the state faces chronic levels of homelessness, shortages of affordable housing and a controversial Public Housing Renewal Program that was the subject of a 2018 Parliamentary Inquiry.

This talk will be followed by a conversation with housing experts Tom Alves and Peter Raisbeck.