Jodie Taylor, Cath Brokenborough, Shelley Reys, and Romilly Madew at Because of Her, We Can breakfast in Barangaroo

NAIDOC week has brought to the fore an emerging interest in Indigenous-led design and planning of the built environment, and with it, a deeply-ingrained approach to sustainability that defines Aboriginal culture.

The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects launched its inaugural Reconciliation Action Plan earlier this week.

For AILA president Linda Corkery, the “Reflect” RAP instills the importance for landscape architects to acknowledge the cultures and histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“As built environment professionals who engage with land, places, cultures, history, people, natural systems and built context, landscape architects seek to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

“The development of AILA’s RAP allows us to better advocate for a ‘Connection to Country’ approach to landscape planning, design and management on all our projects, in varying contexts and across many scales”, said Ms Corkery.

The RAP is the result of collaborative work by AILA’s Connection to Country Committee.

Committee member and principal director of design studio UDLA Greg Grabasch told The Fifth Estate that in the context of landscape architecture, Indigenous-led design involves speaking to the local people – both those that have been here for 100 years as well as those who have been here for aeons – about how the landscape works.

This provides a “deep-dive” understanding that can inform a bottom-up, holistic design process that takes into account the unique characteristics of the land, cultures and people underpinning and surrounding a building site.

By incorporating social outcomes right from the start, communities avoid superficial built environments that come from ideas conceived far from the landscapes they inhabit.

For Indigenous communities that have been on the land for years, “stories are their science”. Mr Grabasch says new cultures have a lot to learn from the stories and warnings told by Indigenous cultures, as these tales can signal good and bad features in the landscape, such as the quality of soil, which can inform decision-making.

Industry focus is shifting

An early-mover in this space, Lendlease has had a RAP in place since 2011. Cath Brokenborough, Lendlease lead for Indigenous engagement and reconciliation, spoke to the Property Council this week about Lendlease’s approach to its RAP.

The RAP shows how people can “practically acknowledge and celebrate Indigenous culture and our shared history, promote reconciliation by working collaboratively with communities to co-create and co-deliver the best places for people, and incorporate human rights into the way we do business”, said Ms Brokenborough.

This week, WSP has been celebrating women in the industry that embody NAIDOC’s 2018 theme “Because of Her, We Can”. Lisa Mundine, a Wiradjuri/Bundjalung woman, has been recognised for her achievements connecting Indigenous Australian people and businesses with the design and construction industry through project delivery, employment opportunities and supplier relationships.

Sustainability embedded in Aboriginal way of thinking

Sustainability is an intrinsic value for Aboriginal cultures. Director of Greenaway Architects and chair at Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria (IADV) Jefa Greenaway spoke to The Fifth Estate in May about the opportunities indigenous-led approaches to design and planning pose for the built environment, and the implications for sustainability.

According to Greenaway, the Wailwan and Gamilaraay architect, interior designer, lecturer and knowledge broker, “sustainability isn’t even a word in our culture.”

“It is a no brainer that you look after what we have”, said Greenaway.

Greenaway says that there needs to be a holistic approach to design that aligns with concepts like Caring for Country.

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  1. Nice one. I’m so glad that indigenous peoples have the tenacity and forbearance to move forward through the backdrop of genocide. And colonial institutions seem to have started to recognise the limitations the traditional approaches of sticking square pegs in round holes. Go team earth!