Investigate the ways in which Aboriginal Culture has been

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R E S E A RC H TA S K :
E X E C U T I V E S U M M A RY
A RC H I T E CT U RA L P RE CE D E NT S : IN VE S T I G AT E WAY S
I N W H IC N AB OR I GI NA L CU LT U RE H AS B E E N
A RC H I T E CT U RA L LY AC CO M M O DAT E D/ P RE S E NT E D IN
RE CE NT ARCH IT E CT U RA L P ROJ E CT S F O R AB OR I GI NA L
C L IE N T S.
Evan G ilchris t
Fred erick Kakish
Sus annah Sweeney
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The literature relating to architectural precedents for designing buildings for
aboriginal people is surprisingly limited and one suspects this limitation is not due
to a lack of interest in or work done, but rather a difficulty in ascribing an
aboriginal archetype. Denis McDonald comments in his essay Architecture and
Dance (1) that “the most important point to make when someone is reviewing or
designing buildings for Aboriginal people is that there are no experts and no
definitive books on the subject”. Consultation is the most important part of
designing for Aboriginal people, abandoning preconceptions that all aborigines
live an ancestral lifestyle is paramount, equally however for communities who no
longer live a traditional lifestyle, maintenance of culture, be it through cultural
events or a relationship with a tribal place is a prerequisite to any urban design.
The precedents largely consider communal spaces where the architects have used
design solutions based on either “abstractions of Aboriginal ancestral histories or
environmental relationships” or the explicit refusal to use “The Dreamtime” or
iconic references in design. Shaneen Fantin in her article “Aboriginal identities in
Architecture”, states that new aboriginal places of significance are made through
the occupation and use of a place over time without necessarily containing
references to an ancestor or ancestral history.
1. Uluru - Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre – Gregory Burgess Architects 1990
The centre was designed through a collaborative on–site process lasting a month,
between the Mutitijulu community of Uluru and the Australian Nature
Conservation Agency (ANCA) as joint clients, with architect Gregory Burgess.
2. Karijini National Park Visitor Centre – Woodhead International 2001
The Karijini National Park Visitor Centre attempts to announce the place where
cultural identity is born. The building is constructed of Core-Ten which matches
the red earth it rests on and gives the building an organic patina. The design of the
building in plan represents a metaphoric goanna moving through the country and
is symbolic to the local Banyjima Aboriginal People.
3. Bowali Visitors Center, Kakadu National Park – Glen Murcutt with Troppo
Architects
Bowali Visitor Centre, Kakadu National Park is the product of an architectural
collaboration between Troppo and Glenn Murcutt. Named after a nearby creek,
the building is a slender, linear complex inspired by the Aboriginal rock shelters in
the nearby stone country of the great Arnhem Plateau, with “vaulted ceilings, cool
niches and areas of discovery”.
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4. The Tjulyuru Ngaanyatjarri Centre at Warburton – Inside Out Architects,
1998
The Tjulyuru Ngaanyatjarri Centre at Warburton was specifically designed to
support and encourage existing Aboriginal living practices, as well as kin-related
Aboriginal etiquette and respect for the layering of Aboriginal knowledge systems.
5. Mirika-Alderton house, Yirrkala, NT by Glenn Murcutt, 1994
A domestic dwelling commissioned by an aboriginal artist, Marmburra Marika in
Yirrkala, NT. Sitting between the ocean and a billabong it is a barely grounded
structure seemingly floating above the dunes.
6. Tranby College, Glebe, NSW – Cracknell Lonergan 1998
A cooperative organization engaged in the education of the aboriginal people for
over half a century. This project was commissioned to add to the existing facility.
7. Wilcannia Hospital, Wilcannia, NSW - Merrima Design, 2002
Merrima Design sought to reinterpret the original hospital designed by Cyril
Blacket and more importantly seek to re appropriate the river site in order to allow
the Barkanji people to reinstate their recent historical connection with the river.
8. Redfern AMS, Redfern, NSW- Merrima Design, 2004
In this project the designers had to disengage from the surroundings. This is the
opposite to the Wilcannia project.
In conclusion, the precedents and architectural dialogue highlight the imperative
of consultation with the community, which may take weeks or months, before a
responsive cultural design brief is determined. “The Dreamtime” or not the
overriding message is to understand the culture of the people and to incorporate
cultural significance into the design. Shaneen Fantin concluded her essay on
aboriginal identities in architecture with the message that “designers are often
called upon to imagine new possibilities, and when that happens they act as
cultural critics and as promoters of cultural change. In the design of art, culture
and interpretive centres, keeping places and museums architects contribute to
changing where and how significant meanings in Aboriginal places are created,
and to Aboriginal cultural production. As such, architects and designers need to
have an understanding of the complexities involved in the use of abstracted
metaphors and encryptions from Aboriginal culture into architecture which is
mostly derived from the architects own cultural milieu”.
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