Professor Allan Rodger.

Image: University of Melbourne Archives

Allan Rodger, Professor and Professor of Architecture at the University of Melbourne from 1974 to 1996, died June 14, 2022, aged 87. He leaves three children and eight grandchildren. Rodger was a pioneer of environmental and social thinking in architecture and architectural education, both locally and globally. Born in Scotland in 1935, he grew up steeped in the practice of making objects – his grandfather was a cabinet maker and joiner, his mother was a seamstress and his father was an architect (trained by apprenticeship, like most architects). were at the time). He first studied engineering science at the University of Dundee, then moved on to architecture at Durham University. His approach to architecture was modernist in the primary sense of using modern materials, forms, and technologies to solve larger social problems.

After graduating, Rodger worked in London before taking over his father’s practice in St Andrews on the east coast of Scotland, where he designed a range of housing and community buildings. He began a teaching career at the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh, where he became critical of the way modernism in architecture was reduced to a corporate style and in which creative thinking was reduced to formalism. He also taught for several years beginning in 1968 in Khartoum, Sudan – a key period of exposure to a very different type of architecture and its ways of adapting to culture, climate and economy. In 1971, he was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and, in 1974, holder of a chair in architecture at the University of Melbourne.

Rodger came to the University of Melbourne at a time when there were only two professors of architecture (there are now 10). He held the chair of architecture until his retirement in 1996; during this period he also held positions as Head of Department and Dean of Faculty. In retirement, he remained active in a wide range of community and consulting engagements.

Rodger was a passionate proponent of new ways of thinking about architecture, cities, and landscapes. He was a relational thinker who was not so much interested in things in themselves as in the interdependence of things. This was not easy to understand for those attached to formalist architecture or fixed master plans. Rodger tended to find his allies outside the tent – ​​in landscape architecture, human ecology and many other disciplines. He has always passionately connected theory to practice, making connections between projects on the ground and the big issues of climate change and global poverty. Forty years ago, he was interested in the implications for the built environment trades of what was then called “the greenhouse effect”. Putting these issues at the top of the profession’s agenda at all scales, from local to global, has been his life’s work.

At the international level, Rodger was the first organizer of the working group created by the International Union of Architects (UIA) to address the challenges of the “greenhouse effect”. In a key article from the first “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, he suggested that the built environment was both the “victim”, the “villain” and potentially the “white knight” of climate change. . The role of the victim is now evident in the increase in fires, floods and hurricanes across the planet; the villain in the high levels of carbon emissions we produce to create buildings and cities; and the white knight in well-designed green cities that reduce emissions.

At the local level, Rodger has been instrumental in the emergence and governance of a range of local initiatives: the CERES community environmental park in Brunswick and the self-built housing project in Maryborough, to name a few. of them. He has played a key role in many philanthropic, government and community organizations including the Banksia Foundation, Greenfleet and Greenhouse Action. In 2015 he received the Leadership in Sustainability Award from the Australian Institute of Architects, of which he was a life member.

Rodger also brought new forms of thought to architectural education. As head of architecture at the University of Melbourne in the early 1980s, he split the five-year degree into two, the first being designed as a generic degree before professional specialization. This initiative was dismantled in the late 1980s, but it is the model we have returned to more than 20 years later. Rodger loved intellectual debate and he understood that the main game of any good university is always the generation of ideas. For him, this meant connecting architecture to a larger world by marrying the rationalities of good science with the creativity of design. In one of our last conversations, he said, “Systems thinking is damn good if you know where you’re trying to go. But leaps of imagination are also very important. In all of these ways, Rodger’s impact will linger and he will be sorely missed.