In the lead-up to Think Outside: Identity + Society, we spoke to Paul Pholeros, architect and director of Healthabitat.
Paul is the principal of an architectural practice based in Sydney working on urban, rural and remote area architectural projects throughout Australia and internationally. Since 1985 Healthabitat has developed and managed Housing for Health projects to improve the living environments and health of Indigenous people in many suburban, rural and remote areas of Australia. Since 1999, over 200 Housing for Health projects have improved over 8,000 houses nationally. Since 2006 the work has spread to overseas projects in Nepal, Bangladesh, Africa and the USA.
The work of Healthabitat has received broad national and international recognition from the Australian Public Health Association, the Australian Institute of Architect’s national Leadership in Sustainability Prize and the International Union of Architect’s prize for alleviating poverty. In 2011, Healthabitat’s work was selected from over 250 projects, submitted by 82 countries, as a winner of the United Nations World Habitat Award.
What does a typical day look like for you?
- 50% architectural practice – making things for those who have the resources to imagine.
- 50% Healthabitat work – trying to make the most basic changes to the living environment so that poor people can live in ways they could not even begin to imagine.
What can attendees to the Think Outside lecture expect to hear?
Stories of the Healthabitat work showing how simple changes to the living environment can improve health and the dirty detail of what it takes to achieve.
Where do you go to get inspiration?
The thousands of people I work with inspire me. Professionals, skilled trades, community staff and brilliant students both in Australia and internationally that all participate in the dirty, grinding work to improve health. I am in awe of the local people, with little education, few resources and who live in tough places and still work passionately to improve their own communities and then help others.
What are your top 3 favourite design books?
- The 3 Christopher Alexander books that describe the Pattern Language. (A Timeless Way of Building, A Pattern Language, The Oregon Experiment - Christopher Alexander et al)
- In Praise of Shadows (Tanizaki)
- Social Business (Muhammad Yunus)
If you weren’t an [architect], what would you do?
The choice is too broad and exciting … animator, plumber, carpenter, philosophy, sociology or research doctor.
What has been your greatest achievement?
It is hard for me to see how personal achievement matters greatly when there is so much that is urgently needed to help those with the daily, grinding struggle of personal survival.
Thousands of people have put in a huge effort over 29 years to make and develop the work of Healthabitat. Collectively, they have proven an idea – poor people are not the problem – poverty is the problem. The work has shown that local people can be a major part of basic work that can transform both their living environment and health.
What is one piece of advice you wish you had received when you were first starting out in your profession?
I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway! I had great teachers who led by example and practise and I stayed connected to them when starting out in the profession. They were generous with their time and passionate about what architecture could be – not necessarily what it was.
What inspires your work? (See above)
What principles inform your work?
In the architectural practice –
- build small, if at all
- the work must come from the people and the place
- then detail, detail and more detail to ensure we protect the greater place (not just the sites our clients own) and those who live there.
In the Healthabitat work –
- improve life threatening safety issues first and then
- … the 9 Healthy Living Practices (see www.healthabitat.com for details)
Do you have any tips for getting your ideas of the ground?
Demonstrate by immediate action rather than talking or promotion to get ideas off the ground.
What role do you think design can play in addressing 21st century problems/challenges that are typically considered outside of the realm of design?
Design can play a part of the solution, but only if we remain humble and see our role as a contributor to very complex problems that need a wide variety of inputs. This will not only solve problems better, but also build the strength of the design professions.
Who is your double doppelgänger?
I have no idea (always a good way to end) … and I would wish it on no person!