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Dr Tarsha Finney


  • Dr Tarsha Finney
  • Area

    School of Architecture


    Programme Leader

  • Senior Research Tutor

  • Dr Tarsha Finney is an architectural urbanist, Senior Research Tutor and Programme Lead on the City Design MA, School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art. Previously she was Visiting Professor in the School of Architecture at the RCA, leading the Intergenerational Cities Research Cluster. Her work is focused on housing, the city and urban change. Her research interests cross several areas: domesticity, the housing project and the role of multi-residential housing in the constitution of the city since the 19 century; architectural typology and notions of architectural disciplinary specificity and autonomy; the architectural urbanism of innovation in cities; and the relationship between spatial performance, ownership and governance structures in urban resilience and transformation in cities, with particular reference to ideas of alternate housing and neighbourhood models. 

  • Biography

  • Tarsha Finney is programme lead of the MA City Design where she teaches design studio, the history and theory of city design, and large complex urban problems via the case study unit.

    Tarsha also leads the Intergenerational Cities Research Stream.  This work looks at contemporary cities in terms of new conditions of urban centralisation, social equity and housing affordability, demographic change and ageing, and the consequence of transformations in economies and labour in terms of mobility particularly. Areas of investigation include new neighbourhood structures and housing co-operative models that enable new logics to collectivity in terms of intimacy and care in cities.

    Prior to joining the RCA, Tarsha was Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney (2009–2017) where she was (interim) Director of the Master’s of Research programme (2016–2017) and taught M.Arch design studio, undergraduate urban history and theory, and professional practice.  She has a degree in Architecture from the University of New South Wales and an MA in Housing and Urbanism from the Architectural Association (Dist. 2002-2003 Thesis: A Revolution is not like a dinner party: Antagonisms and the Social/unsociability of the City: New York v Beijing 1949.  Supervisor: Professor Lawrence Barth.) She was recipient of the Michael Ventris Award to undertake primary research in China into domesticity in the pre- and post-revolutionary period in Beijing. As a doctoral candidate at the AA (supervision Lawrence Barth + Nicholas Bullock) she was a member of a series of doctoral research groups at the AA looking at Urban Transformation and Change and Rethinking Architectural Urbanism led by Lawrence Barth.

    She completed her Ph.D. at the University of Technology, Sydney in 2016 (Supervision Prof Desley Luscombe, Prof. Charles Rice)  Repetition and Transformation: The Housing Project and the City. New York 1934 – 1973 examines the multi-scalar instrumentality of the housing project in urban change. It does this in two registers. On the one hand, the diagrammatic condition of the housing project can be seen to be a generalized condition within modernity’s urban spatial reasoning from the early decades of the twentieth century. This discursive condition has been instrumental along with domesticity in the constitution of some of the most fundamental divisions we now understand in cities: public v private, and the domestic versus the urban subject for example. At the same time, it’s also possible to see how this generalized diagrammatic condition unfolds and is deformed within the specificity of particular regulatory, legal, political and economic conditions as it is materialized. The thesis looked at the city of New York in the second half of the twentieth century, the city that has throughout the twentieth century been repeatedly held up as both the site of modernism’s failure, and at the same time, the site of all of the promise that the delirious metropolis of change might be.

    The thesis established and framed this general condition and its specific materialisation and reasoning across several terrains. The first concerns architecture’s disciplinary outside: an agonistic governmental rationality regarding the constellation of home, work, leisure and transport in the formation of urban and domestic subjects. This is understood to be a disputed terrain that can be seen to consistently cut through the urban diagram of the housing project. The second is seen through architecture’s limited and iterative disciplinary autonomy to engage with and experiment on this diagram via a strategic field of material and formal organization (its interior), that is, through the specific work of architectural typology in its negotiation with this outside. By bringing together the two lenses, of governmental rationality and architecture’s limited and iterative autonomy, this thesis starts to clarify to a field that insists on defining itself in terms of the new, where architecture’s limited actual disciplinary agency for transformation and political action is. 

    Tarsha has taught in universities in the UK, Australia, China and Hong Kong. She has been an invited critic for the MA, M.Arch and Phd programmes in Architecture and urbanism at the Architectural Association, the Bartlett, Cambridge University, the University of Hong Kong, the University of Nottingham, the Berlage Institute, Rotterdam, Ghent Unveristy, University of New South Wales, University of Sydney, University of Tasmania.

    In 2013 she was Australian lead and host as part of the RCA’s Innovation Design Engineering dual degree with Imperial College London, and in collaboration with the School of Architecture at UTS, on a one month cross disciplinary sports innovation design workshop in Sydney.

    She is currently co-editing a special edition of the Journal of Architecture on Type and the Discourse of Urbanism.

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  • Practice

  • Tarsha's work is focused on housing, the city and urban change. Her research interests cross several areas: domesticity, the housing project and the role of multi-residential housing in the constitution of the city since the 19th century; architectural typology and notions of architectural disciplinary specificity and autonomy; the architectural urbanism of innovation in cities; and the relationship between spatial performance, ownership and governance structures in urban resilience and transformation in cities, with particular reference to ideas of alternate housing and neighbourhood models.

    Tarsha works extensively with industry partners, practice and academics in architecture, city making and planning and allied disciplines.
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  • External collaborations

  • Tarsha is an invited member of the editorial board of The Unfamiliar Dwelling (2016 The Architecture Foundation); she is an invited and founding board member of Make Space for Architecture (Sydney); she was an invited juror for the 2016 Australian Institute of Architects NSW Chapter Awards for the categories of Public, Urban and Education. Tarsha is a founding member of the AIA (NSW) Gender Equity Taskforce and contributes regularly to the architectural press on issues of Gender in the profession.

    Tarsha speaks regularly in Australia on radio and on Television and writes for the general press about the issues of housing, density and urban transformation, including appearing as advisor and expert opinion on Searching for Home (2018 d. Pasvolsky, S), a feature length documentary for television examining global issues of housing affordability.

    Finney, T. (2017), Housing Rethink, in Pellegrino, L. (ed.) Overnights on ABC Radio National. Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Commission.28min radio interview on Housing and Intergenerational Cities.

    Finney, T. (2016), 'Under One Roof– Multi-Generational Housing', in McCullagh, C. (ed.) ABC Radio National, Life Matters. ABC Radio National interview on demographic change and cities, 20mins.

    Finney, T. (2016), 'SharedSpaces and Walking for Transport: Changing how we live in Australian Cities', in Raabus, C. (ed.) ABC News Radio. Hobart: Australian Broadcasting Commission.

    The Panel: 'ProvocativeArchitecture'. By Design. ABC Radio National: ABC. 2012. Producer Janne Ryan, Presenter Fenella Kernabone.

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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Publications

    Finney, T.L. (2018). The Conditions of Experimentation: New Social Spaces and the Scale of the Housing Block. (Forthcoming).


    Finney, T.L. (2016), 'Architectural Urbanism and Sporting Ecologies: Constituting the Scale of Neighbourhood' in Southgate, D., Childs, P. & Bull, A.M.J. (eds.), Sports Innovation, Technology and Research. Singapore:World Scientific Publishing, pp. 97–111.

    Finney, T.L. (2016), 'Urban Transformation, Spatial Instrumentality and Scale' in Verebes, T. (ed), AA Shanghai Portfolio.

     Finney, T.L. &  Reinmuth G. (2015), 'Agency, Redirected' in Mitsogianni, V., Bates, D. & Ramirez-Lovering, D. (eds.), Studio Futures:Changing Trajectories in Architectural Education, Melbourne:Uro, pp. 133–140.

     Finney, T.L. (2008), 'Centrality and Dispersal: Domesticity and the City' in Flores, R. & Prats, E. (eds.), Through the Canvas: Architecture Inside Dutch Paintings, Sydney: University of New South Wales, pp. 116–119.

    Co-edited Journal Special Editions 

    Finney, T.L. Borsi, K, & Philippou, P (2018), 'Architectural Type and the Discourse of Urbanism', Journal of Architecture. Special Edition.

    Journal Articles (peer reviewed)

    Finney, T.L (2018), 'The Housing Project and Spatial Experimentation: Public Benefit, Eminent Domain and Transformations in Law' Journal of Architecture. (forthcoming)

    Finney, T.L. (2015), 'The Ground, Object and Strategy: Architectural Transformation in Housing Projects, New York City', Journal of Architecture, vol. 20, no. 6, pp. 962–987.

    Finney, T.L. (2010), 'The infrastructure of stability', Architectural Design, vol. 80, no. 5, pp. 64–69.


    Finney, T.L (2017),  'Get A Room'.,Architecture Bulletin, pp. 12–13.

    Finney, T.L (2012), 'Love Thy Neighbour', Landscape Architecture China, vol. 5, no. 25, pp. 52–57.

    Finney, T.L (2012), 'Urban Change', Architecture Australia, vol. 101, no. 1, pp. 70–72.

    Finney, T.L (2010), 'The Infrastructure of Instability: Afghanistan', Post Traumatic Urbanism: Architectural Design, vol. 80, no. 5, pp. 64–69.

    Finney, T.L (2009), 'Review: Depot Beach House by Stutchbury Pape', Monument Magazine, vol. 90, no. April/May.

    Finney, T.L (2009), 'Review: Challenger Workplace.', Monument Magazine, vol. 89, no. Feb/Mar.

    Finney, T.L (2008), 'Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York', Journal of Architecture, vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 515–518.

    Finney, T.L (2006), 'Review: Artificial nature 1: Transcapes, digitally mediated Environments', Architecture Review (AR) Australia, December.

    Conference Papers

    Finney, T.L (2016), 'Housing Infrastructure Cities: Hong Kong / Sydney How We're Blinded To The Limitations Of Transit Oriented Development', AMPS Proceedings 7 Series, Future Housing: Global Cities and Regional Problems, AMPS, Swinbourne University, pp. 215–220.

    Finney, T.L. & Reinmuth, G. (2013), 'Agency, Redirected', Designing/ Education: Proceedings of the 7th International Conference of The Association of Architecture Schools of Australasia, Designing/ Education: 7th International Conference of The Association of Architecture Schools of Australasia, The Association of Architecture Schools of Australia, Melbourne, pp. 406–425.

    Conferences Organised

    (2015) Finney, T., Borsi, K. & Philippou, P.  Conference: Architectural Type and the Discourse of Urbanism, Royal College of Art, London. RCA in collaboration with the University of Technology Sydney and Nottingham University.

    (2010) Finney, T.  Conference: Urban Futures: Architectural Type and the Urban Plan,  Customs House, Sydney.


    (2010) Curator, URBAN FUTURES: Ideas of the City UTS Gallery, Sydney

    (2012) Curator CO-ISOLATED, Shed 29 South Sydney Corporate Park, Sydney

    Newspaper Editorial

    Finney, T. (2016), 'Why Art Schools Matter, not just for Art's Sake but for Urban Renewal in Sydney and Other Cities', The Conversation.

    Finney, T. (2016), 'White Bay Rethink Hinges on who looks out for the Public Interest in Remaking Sydney'. The Conversation.

    Finney, T. (2012), 'Bagram Riots expose Afghanistan's Shifting Allegiances to the Masters of War', The Conversation.

    Finney, T. (2011), 'How Alice Tackles its Housing Crisis nowwill Shape its Future', The Conversation.

    Finney, T. (2011), 'Love Thy Neighbour: Gen Y Embraces Closeness of Urban Living', Sydney Morning Herald, 14th June 2011.

    Invited lectures

    (2017) Design Speaks, Housing Futures 2017, Melbourne.

    (2017) Key Note, The Future of Work, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, RCA, London

    (2017) New Co-operative Models of Housing, Perspectives speaker series, Sydney. 

    (2017) Key Note + Panel discussion chair, Place Making Asia Pacific, with Deputy Director, Singapore National Housing and Development Board director Fong Chun Wah.

    (2015 ) Invited Speaker, The Ground and the Housing Project, New York 1974, Blitz Art Foundation, Valletta Malta. 

    (2014) Invited speaker, AA The Typological Burden and the Ground, Type and Typology conference organised by Professor Sam Jacoby, Projective Cities, RCA, London.

    (2013) Domesticity and the Regularity of the Line.,M.Arch Program in Urban Design, Bartlett, University College London. 

    (2013) Networks of Creative Industries in Indigenous Remote and Regional Australia, Goldsmiths College, Centre for Research Architecture, London

    (2013) Dual Innovation Design Engineering program. Preparation and contextualising of Sydney based design studio. Royal College of Art and Imperial College, London.

    (2009) Repetition and Transformation, the Neighbourhood Unit Plan and the Housing Project, Urban Futures Conference, Customs House, Sydney. 

    (2008) Repetition and Transformation: Spatial Strategy and the Neighbourhood Unit Plan, UTS Public Lecture, Sydney.

    (2005 + 2006) The Chinese Danwei: The Domestic Alternative. AA M.A (H+U)

    (2004)Domesticity, the Danwei in China and the model apartment. UNSW M.Arch International Studio with Ricardo Florress and Eva Pratts, Sydney.

    (2004) Domesticity and Repetition: Gordon Matta-Clark ‘s ‘splitting’ , UNSW, Sydney.

    (2004) Porosity and the city: The alignment of liberal governmentality and the urban examining the development of Beijing and Berlin 1850–1900. Porosity Graduate Research Group with Professor Richard Goodwin. UNSW College of Fine Art (COFA), Sydney.

    (2004) Panopticon and Domesticity: Strategic exemplars in the development of the autonomous individual.

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  • Awards and Grants

  • (2017) Project lead with Joanne Kinniburgh (UTS) on Myer Foundation grant Place-Making Sandbox. $140,000.00Aus. (Total grant 1mil$ Aus.).

    UTS was one of 8 universities in a consortium bidding for this funding from the Myer Foundation. It was granted to explore the relationship between spatial performance, governance in the context of the creation of sustainable, resilient urban environments, both public spaces, and as part of new residential and mixed use urban renewal projects.


Research interests

Tarsha’s research work is focused on housing, the city and urban change. Her research interests cross several areas: domesticity, the housing project and the role of multi-residential housing in the constitution of the city since the 19th century; architectural typology and notions of architectural disciplinary specificity and autonomy; the architectural urbanism of innovation in cities; and the relationship between spatial performance, ownership and governance structures in urban resilience and transformation in cities, with particular reference to ideas of alternate housing and neighbourhood models. 

Life Spans: Design, Spatial Reasoning and the Intergenerational City 

Firstly, the question of ageing and labor with regards to the city. The plasticity of human capital – its ‘employability’ – depends on its capacity for adaptation and life long learning, as well as its mobility. This new and emerging demand extends the productive life span of human beings beyond concepts of retirement established in the twentieth century, while pulling people out and away from the traditional support structures such as established community or family.

Second, to take note of the transformation of alpha cities from a condition of decentralization, which was the dominant discursive condition from the 1920’s, to centralization which has in the last 15 years reached a critical point. Here service and knowledge economy workers desire to be as close to the urban core as possible with its employment opportunities, low commuting times, and what is understood to be a condition of dynamic social and cultural life. At the same time, the commodification of housing and a legacy of housing stock organized around the modern/nuclear family and the private dwelling, is resulting in a crisis of access to suitable housing provision, excluding many and putting others in an increasingly precarious economic situation.  This condition of intensifying centralization, scarcity of housing options and resulting social exclusion is a global condition of Alpha cities: London, Sydney, Vancouver, New York etc etc.

Finally, a massive and now well developed shift in developed and developing economies toward an aging population with attendant issues around the balance between tax base and obligations for ongoing care, the increased role of degenerative mental diseases, and the withdrawal of the state from provision of health care – all without the traditional structures of support and care that once existed, leading to a profound existential crisis of loneliness and isolation with exacerbated effects on health care needs.

Taken together, the new phases required of a productive life, the centralization of opportunity in cities, and a widespread and vast demographic change add up to a complex spatial social challenge with important consequences. This event will take up these issues and pose the following questions: How do we ensure that our cities remain accessible to everyone: families, older people, ageing populations, not just the young, mobile and affluent? Are there forms of complementarity that can strategically reconnect communities across different phases of life? Can new forms of institutions or association work across the fault lines appearing between generations?

These are all fundamentally spatial questions.  Accommodating a diversity of ages and family structures in housing is not a question to be answered at a single scale, the question of mobility and access within the dwelling unit for example will not resolve larger questions of isolation. Instead, the question of diversity and complementarity is one that needs to be asked at a multiplicity of scales at once, and in a way that begins to challenge the dominance of the standard model of housing provision, the studio one two and three bed apartment. What functions can be taken out of the standard apartment and replaced at the scale of the housing block to be shared? What functions can be distributed at the scale of the neighbourhood such that loneliness and isolation can also be addressed via new logics of collectivity and community?

The Conditions of Experimentation: New models of Collective Housing

Much has been written about the new co-operative housing projects that are emerging in Germany and Switzerland particularly, but also models such as Nightingale in Australia. Most accounts of the projects focus on the community led aspect of the work, and the sustainability, affordability and shared amenity of the housing developments.

What is less often spoken about is the innovation that be seen to be emerging in this work in terms of the spatial performance of the dwelling unit and its relationship to the building block.  Emerging through projects such as the German Baugruppen model, Swiss co-operatives such as Kraftwerk, or Australia’s Nightingale, and Barcelona's La Borda can be seen a new kind of shared space that is starting to challenge the traditional division of our lived domesticity in the private interior of the dwelling unit relative to a public exterior. Essential to the possibility of this experimentation seems to be the negotiation of dispute as part of a design process in the bringing into form of the project.  Here the productive shared agonism of collective enterprise emerges via the architectural drawing.