As shapers of our built environment, architects are in a unique position to integrate First Nations culture into the world around us and reflect the true history of the land occupied by the buildings.
This can range from incorporating significant colors or elements of history into building designs, creating jobs and learning opportunities, and advocating on national policy issues.
However, architecture studios represent only a small proportion of the roughly 650 Australian companies with a reconciliation action plan, which represents a missed opportunity in terms of advancing reconciliation.
To help mark last week’s National Reconciliation Week, the Association of Consulting Architects and consultants The Fulcrum Agency, hosted a webinar to discuss and help close the gap.
Panelists included Christine Dernee from Reconciliation Australia, Rosina Di Maria from Woods Bagot, Tamara Veltre from Breathe Architecture, Emma Brain from The Fulcrum Agency and RAP consultant Viviana Sacchero.
The PAR program is designed as a framework for organizations to contribute to the reconciliation process and falls into four main categories: Think, Elevate, Stretch and Innovate.
Recently, the national architectural firm Hames Sharley partnered with Whadjuk man Brendan Moore of the Yunga Foundation to implement their first RAP – Reflect – which involves listening and developing relationships with Aboriginal stakeholders. and Torres Strait Islanders.
“By engaging traditional owners, we can ensure that any new development reflects our stories; stories of one of the world’s oldest civilizations stretching back tens of thousands of years. At the very least, this incredible story needs to be recognized, ”said Moore.
A comparable company, Woods Bagot, also recently implemented a RAP and found community consultation to be a critical step in the process, followed by the creation of a ‘road map’ to ensure that the company has achieved. paid more than lip service to the reconciliation movement.
Di Maria explained that the company had consulted with Indigenous groups and individuals as well as other organizations that had implemented a RAP, and that the company was in the final stages of translating this knowledge into policy.
Viviana Sacchero acts as the project manager for the implementation of the RAPS in five different organizations, including Breathe Architecture, and said that her first step is to organize an introduction to a First Nations elder to involve him in the process. .
“I think the big piece, what we’re really trying to achieve with RAP, is to contextualize your practice or your organization in the over 60,000 year history of this country,” Sacchero said.
Putting the plans into action
A partner at Hames Sharley, Ryan Dunham has worked on several projects in Western Australia and the Northern Territory where he has sought to incorporate Aboriginal history and culture into designs. Moore, who works with the company on the HBP, explained that there are several ways to do this.
“It may be a site where the Bibbulmun – the Noongar people – lived who built their homes with Melaleuca bark; in which case the shades of gray, white and brown of the paper bark could influence the color palette of the building, ”he said.
“Or maybe it was a traditional fishing spot, where the shimmering silver of the fish and the brilliant green-black colors of the raven could be used to enhance the design.”
For Optus Stadium in WA, Moore helped facilitate design elements around the exterior that represent the stories of the Noongar community, while in Yagan Square, the inclusion of tracks recognizes how the area was once used. as a source of food and a meeting place.
“Whether it’s the shape of the design or the colors used or even the materials chosen, it’s about understanding the importance of this site and finding a way to tell its stories. Rather than just erecting panels that can fade or break over time, if you embed the culture of the story into the design itself, then it’s here for life.
On the recent Home in East Newman project, Dunham worked with Traditional Owners Nyiyaparli and Martu Custodians of the Land in Washington State to guide its design.
“What I found interesting was that we always start the conversation by talking about shelter and water and let the conversation grow from there; the discussion would lead to talking about fire, shadow, stars and moon, plant life and how people inhabit space.
“Considering the importance of exterior spaces first and interior spaces second, approaching design with that order in mind – was completely opposed to how traditional architecture can be viewed, but it had a lot more to do with it. meaning and the result was richer for her. “
On a larger scale, developer Lendlease is implementing its third consecutive PAR in a national strategy with a focus on elevating First Nations voices through employment and consultation and investing in partnerships. that preserve language and culture.
The company also acts as a national advocate on issues such as constitutional recognition and incarceration rates.
Reconciliation Australia Christine Dernee urged companies to work on their own scale and implement their own strategies and projects.
“I always encourage organizations to take a strengths-based approach to their PAR. We have those with five employees and those with 50,000 employees, so the impact these organizations can have will vary widely, ”she said.
She encouraged all organizations to contact Reconciliation Australia to help them develop a strategy that works for them.