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Wednesday, 23 September 2020
University of Wollongong
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC

Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Distinguished Guests,

I pay my respects to the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet, and acknowledge their spiritual, social, cultural and economic connection to their lands and waters and the unique and lasting contribution they have made to the identity of this region as is now formally recognised in s 2 of the NSW Constitution.  

Thank you for your invitation to officially open the Social Sciences and the Arts building, a state-of-the-art teaching and learning space dedicated to Chancellor Jillian Broadbent in recognition of her visionary contribution to this University over the last 11 years.  

Chancellor, in your public life, including your time at the University of Wollongong, you have embodied the synergies of the Arts, Business, Social Science and Science sectors upon which this University has built its reputation.

The formal amalgamation of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities within the one Faculty on 1 July this year, has continued and enhanced the University of Wollongong’s dedication to doing what Universities from ancient times have been designed to do: to enhance learning, to facilitate critical analysis, to foster creative thinking, all for the betterment of humankind.   Universities do that by bringing together people and place.  

This conceptual understanding of ‘University’ caused me to give thought to the function of the built environment which surrounds us and to this state-of-the-art building, in particular. Buildings don’t simply emerge.  Good buildings, indeed, great buildings, as we have here, are the result of a collaborative process which begins with a vision, which becomes a concept, then a design and eventually a reality. 

Architecture is a central component in this process.  Stated at its most basic, architecture is about function and form.  Of all the art forms, architecture is “a discipline which draws on psychology, sociology, economics, and politics”[1] from which a scientifically based physical structure emerges to create something which is more than function and form.   

That something more, as Professor Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of Harvard Graduate School of Design from 2008-2019 explains, is a manifestation of architecture’s responsibility “to engage with society at large”.   Professor Mostafavi refers to “the performativity of archictecture” which not only provides a structure but “which serves humankind.”[2]  

Australian architect, Angelo Candalepas, a Greek Orthodox architect who designed the Punchbowl Mosque, picks up this theme when he describes architecture as being “bound by its social agency to bring a community of people together in a common goal of optimism.” 

Renzo Piano, well-known in Australia, whose buildings include the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Shard in London, Aurora Place, Macquarie St Sydney and the Barangaroo towers, says that in addition to all that, “there’s a quality of magic”.[3] 

The parallels with a University, and with the functions and goals of the Faculty now housed in this building are obvious: there is ‘performativity’, supporting the processes of learning, analyses and thinking for the 21st century.  There is the social purpose and the tangible outcomes to which study in this Faculty are directed.  As importantly, one feels here the ‘quality of magic’ which is itself at the heart of learning.  

The tangible evidence that the vision and the commitment to learning and social purpose that brings ‘people and place to life’ in this new faculty, in this new building, are not merely aspirational.  One simply looks to international rankings to find the University of Wollongong in the top 200 universities in the world.  It is a research-intensive university, recognised internationally for the quality of its education, research impact, and industry and community engagement. 

The Schools of Health and Society; Geography and Sustainable Communities; Arts, English and Media now combined in the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities have been main players in these university-wide attainments, particularly in the area of community engagement.  

Over the past year, these Schools have:

-       Mapped well-being in the community;

-       Addressed responses to natural disasters;

-       Brought together the arts-science-social science in a collaboration to investigate and communicate about climate change;

-       Articulated the collective stories of South Coast people and communities affected by devastating bushfires;

as well as having provided practical assistance to students and communities affected by the bushfires. 

At a time where there has been ecological, health and economic disruption on a scale not previously experienced by most of us,  it is salient to reflect upon the ‘positive social change’ that can be brought about as we move into the recovery phase post the pandemic, and further into the future. The University’s response to the challenge of the near and further distant future is found in the words of  the Vice Chancellor: “we will shape graduates whouse their heads, hands and heart.” 

Creativity, Connection, and Community, the core collaborative drivers of this new Faculty, are the cornerstones upon which the future will be built as, inevitably and increasingly, the human and the artificially intelligent world interact.  Indeed, “It is human collaboration that will enable AI to be the powerful tool for good that it has the potential to be.”[4]

As we look around us at this built space, it is apparent that good architecture, thoughtful architecture, influences the identity and the emotion of a place and its people.  Let me return, therefore, and finish with the interplay between people and place, between those who populate a university, the leaders, the academics, the students, the researchers, and the built environment in which teaching, learning, experience, thinking and creativity occur.  

Combined, the people and the minds of those who will inhabit this space for decades to come will, to use the words of Professor Mohsen Mostafavi: “create a resilient, just and beautiful world”.

Congratulations to all involved in creating this place for that purpose.

[1] Vikas Shah MBE: Interviews with leading thinkers and people shaping the century: The Role of Architecture in Humanity’s Story:  Martha Thorne (Executive Director of the Pritzker Prize)

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Matissa Hollister: Fellow, World Economic Forum:

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