Coinciding with NAIDOC Week, Australian architecture groups have highlighted strategies to lift the industry’s game and achieve better reconciliation and sustainability outcomes by amplifying Indigenous perspectives.

The Australian Institute of Architects hosts a First Nations Advisory Working Group and Cultural Reference Panel, with a mandate to improve First Nations representation and engagement in the industry.

Chairing the Working Group are Palawa woman, architect and Monash University lecturer, Sarah Lynn Rees, alongside renowned architect and anthropologist Professor Paul Memmott.

Also involved are Callantha Brigham, Dr Shaneen Fantin, Bradley Kerr, Louis Anderson Mokak , Alison Page, Finn Pederson, Carroll Go-Sam, Paul Herzich, Dillon Kombumerri and Michael Mossman. 

Veteran architect and descendant of the Wailwan and Kamilaroi people, Jefa Greenaway sits on the Cultural Reference Panel. 

Jefa Greenaway

He said it was important to move away from a “deficit discourse” around Indigenous culture and start to celebrate the opportunities that exist in the built and natural environment.

“Given that it is so viscerally connected to country, there’s an obvious relationship,” Mr Greenaway said. 

Having worked in the industry for over 25 years and founded his own practice, Mr Greenaway said he aims to anchor his work in an understanding of “place” through engaging directly with traditional owners, elders and knowledge keepers.

“The various projects that we work on are located somewhere, so the starting premise is really to understand the country in which the project is located to reveal the layers of history and memory,” Mr Greenaway said.  

“Certainly the Indigenous knowledge system and wisdom of Indigenous people as the stewards and the custodians of country for 3000 generations becomes really significant.” 

The inclusion of many First Nations voices on the Working Group aims to ensure the strategies amount to more than just words. 

One of the goals is seeing more Indigenous people going on to become architects and decision makers. According to Mr Greenaway, currently there are around 75 Indigenous students training to become architects.

“That is really encouraging, but you do need that scaffolding and support around students because as we know, in architecture it’s a long haul,” Mr Greenaway said. 

“It’s a 5-6 year degree, and you have to work in the profession for a number of years so it’s a commitment of at least a decade before you can even call yourself an architect.

“So it’s therefore important to demonstrate why as a broader profession it’s something that Indigenous people can play an active and important contribution into.”

Arcadia’s Connection to Country “Walkshop”

Arcadia calls for an end to “cultural box-ticking”

One young Indigenous person carrying the mantle in architecture is Kaylie Salvatori, a Yuin woman who works with landscape architecture firm, Arcadia.

She helped provide insight for a new report by the company, titled Shaping Country: Cultural Engagement in Australia’s Built Environment which calls for the industry to move beyond “ornamental recognition” of Indigenous Australians. 

“I cannot speak for all Indigenous people,” Salvatori said. “There is a lot of pressure on me to have all the answers or know all the intricacies of my culture. But even I am still learning.”

“We need more First Nations people on design teams not only so that they can represent the interests of more Indigenous groups, but also so they can forge trusted relationships with local communities.”

Also involved in creating the report was Budawang/Yuin researcher and designer Dr Danièle Hromek who said, “until the processes we use to design our built environments are adapted to include community, culture and Country, colonisation of our spaces will continue

“Country has a relational methodology, meaning that we, people, are related to all things through Country, including flora, fauna, earth, rocks, winds, elements – from the most diminutive microbe to the amorphous ocean,

“This methodology of relationships keeps everything in balance, as no single entity is privileged above another. This includes humans. The methodology of Country can – and, I believe, must – be incorporated into the methodology of built environment design.” 

Architects Accreditation Council of Australia introduces new standards 

The Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA) has included in their new National Standard of Competency for Architects (NSCA), a greater responsibility to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

All architects practising  in Australia are required to register to the standard, with the current iteration the result of 18-months of research and close engagement with stakeholders, including the Australian Institute of Architects Working Group and Cultural Reference Panel.

“We are proud that the 2021 NSCA enshrines a greater focus on more meaningful engagement with our First Nations peoples. As this year’s NAIDOC Week theme – Heal Country! – so clearly highlights, we have a long way to go in achieving real reform and reconciliation,” AACA CEO Kathlyn Loseby said. 

“We recognise that fundamental change is needed in the relationship Australia has with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

“We also acknowledge that we have so much to learn from the rich history and oldest continuing cultures on earth, not least when it comes to how we care for Country.”

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