BArch (Rome), 1990
PhD in Architecture (UCLA), 1997
Full Professor of Construction and Architecture
An architect by training, Paolo Tombesi has a long-nurtured interest in the relationship between the intellectual dimension of building and the socio-technical aspects of its physical construction. An international authority on the industrial organisation of architectural practice and the analysis of the building procurement process, he employs industrial economics, labour theory and regional development models to examine the relationship between design, technological innovation, knowledge production and building markets.
Paolo Tombesi joined EPFL in 2016 as Professor of Construction and Architecture. Between 2017 and 2020 he directed the university’s Institute of Architecture and the City. Prior to his appointment, he held the Chair in Construction at the University of Melbourne, where he worked for 20 years and where he retained the Professorship of Building until 2021. A former Fulbright Fellow, he has a PhD from the University of California at Los Angeles on the distribution of technical design knowledge in the building industry, developed by examining the construction of Frank Gehry’s buildings.
Between 2005 and 2009, he was an Italian Government Research Fellow at the Faculty of Architecture of the Polytechnic of Turin as part of ‘Brain Return’, a national programme designed to build new research capacity in the country. In Turin, Professor Tombesi led a research group investigating the procurement of iconic public buildings in Italy and across Europe. Since 2004, he has secured multiple competitive research grants and performed refereeing roles for several national research councils. In 2007 and 2010, he was appointed as built environment expert to the research assessment initiatives of the Australian Commonwealth. He has been working as a consultant for state and federal governments as well as the Royal Australian Institute of Architects on research and heritage issues, most notably on the 2006 World Heritage Listing nomination to UNESCO of the Sydney Opera House, which he continues to study.
Since the mid-1980s he has contributed to some of the world’s leading architectural and building periodicals. Between 1990 and 1996 he worked for the Italian architectural review Casabella, and for many years he was on the editorial board of the North-American Journal of Architectural Education and the British Construction Management and Economics. His writings have appeared in Architectural Research Quarterly, arcCA, Architecture Australia, Art China, Building Research and Information, Cartas Urbanas, Casabella, Center, Construction Management and Economics, Costruire, Domus, Journal of Architectural Education, Journal of Architectural Engineering, Journal of Architecture, Journal of Disaster Prevention, Harvard Design Magazine, Spazio & Societá and UME. In 2000, his article ‘The carriage in the needle’, which addressed the industrial restructuring of the building and architectural sector, won the Journal of Architectural Education Award for outstanding article. In 2005, with his colleagues Blair Gardiner and Tony Mussen, he received the Sisalation Prize from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. The resulting book, Looking Ahead: Defining the Terms of a Sustainable Architectural Profession, was published in 2007.
More recently he has been involved in the activities of the Building Intelligence Project at Columbia University, and with the professional and academic scene in India, Sri Lanka and Chile. His current work focuses on construction typology and materials supply in transition economies; yet a strong interest remains for the analysis of the building process in complex projects. He has been on the board of the Swiss Architectural Foundation and a member of the jury for the Swiss Architectural Award. Professor Tombesi has given numerous public addresses and advanced seminars around the world, and lectured at several universities, including Chile’s Catolica, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Yale, Minnesota, Navarra, Reading and Syracuse. He teaches building technology, political economy, construction policy and technical change, and supervises post-graduate research that deals with complex policy and integration issues in design and building.
Top image: Ship yard at the Rann of Kuch, India, TOMBESI (2017)