Students embrace Indigenous knowledge in architectural design and practice

Students embrace Indigenous knowledge in architectural design and practice

Embedding Indigenous knowledge into creative practice and design processes has been a strong focus for students from RMIT’s School of Architecture and Urban Design this year.

Fifteen students worked in partnership with Boon Wurrung Elder N’Arwee’t Dr Carolyn Briggs AM in the ‘Yirramboi’ Studio during their final semester, with many saying the experience was life changing.

Senior Lecturer Dr Christine Phillips said it was part of a broader program at the University to embed Indigenous knowledge into research, learning and teaching.

“Within our School, we’ve taken a close look at what a shared and reconciled future means for design professionals and how we can better prepare our graduate students to work in that space when they go out and practice,” she said.

“We’re all working and designing on unceded land.

“We want our students to really understand what that means and to be more inclusive about how we design in a manner that recognises and celebrates Australia’s 60,000 years of Indigenous knowledge, history and culture.”

 

Alt Text is not present for this image, Taking dc:title 'Boon Wurrung Elder N’Arwee’t Dr Carolyn Briggs AM shared Indigenous knowledge and stories with architecture and design students joining online from around the globe during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.' Design by RMIT Bachelor of Architectural Design student Pamela Sanchez, created during the ''Yirramboi' Design Studio led by Dr Christine Phillips and Stasinos Mantzis with N'arwee't Dr Carolyn Briggs AM.

The most recent studio project was taught by Phillips with Stasinos Mantzis, Director of Mantzis Architecture Studio in partnership with N’Arwee’t Dr Carolyn Briggs and asked students to examine a future Melbourne where the cultures and traditions of First Nations people are made visible within our colonised city.

These issues were explored through the design of a First Nations Assembly and Cultural Building.

Briggs said the experience working together with the students was inspiring as she observed them carefully listening to her shared Indigenous stories and incorporating what they’d learnt into their work.

“It was a fascinating journey and I felt privileged to be a part of it,” she said.

“At first, we realised these students had just witnessed the Black Lives Matter demonstration, so the first iterations of their story boards were around activism.

“However, I think the more we spoke, they felt they’d missed out on chunks of that deeper learning in their lives.

 

Alt Text is not present for this image, Taking dc:title 'Design by RMIT student Pamela Sanchez, created during the Yirramboi Studio.' Design by RMIT Bachelor of Architectural Design students Roy Meuleman and Emma Clyde, created during the ''Yirramboi' Design Studio led by Dr Christine Phillips and Stasinos Mantzis with N'arwee't Dr Carolyn Briggs AM.

“Many young people have no idea about Indigenous story, people and place, but these students found their way through the process.

“We can go anywhere in the world and see the same pathways, design elements, buildings that block out lots of things.

“But these students invested a lot of time to create design elements that really challenged the way we see things in the city and the tall buildings and structures that are there now.

“It was amazing because they used the seasons, languages, trees and historical events that have impacted us to be really creative in the way they designed the building.

“I enjoyed seeing them embracing the whole concept of understanding First People’s stories and I’m seeing a strong future in the way we view buildings in the city.

“I think we’ll see amazing futures where you’ll walk into a place and you’re immediately embraced with the identity and culture of people.

"We’ll be reclaiming our living culture and shared history.”

Boon Wurrung Elder N’Arwee’t Dr Carolyn Briggs AM shared Indigenous knowledge and stories with architecture and design students joining online from around the globe during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Boon Wurrung Elder N’Arwee’t Dr Carolyn Briggs AM shared Indigenous knowledge and stories with architecture and design students joining online from around the globe during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Ongoing partnerships and shared futures

Phillips and her colleague, Landscape Architecture lecturer Jock Gilbert, established the School of Architecture and Urban Design’s Reconciliation Action Committee in early 2018 to help create cultural change and continue their initial work to build strong relationships with Indigenous communities.

Annual student activities they’ve been running for several years include field trips on Country and other design studios in partnership with Indigenous community members.

Gilbert said there is a strong focus on reciprocity in the partnerships.

“Firstly, we know it’s vital we’re not just talking about Indigenous culture and knowledge.

"We need to involve Indigenous people and invite them in at the very beginning of our planning and projects.

“This is a reciprocal relationship and it’s important to us that the communities benefit from these partnerships too."

Briggs agrees there is a strong sense of reciprocity in the work she and other Indigenous community members do jointly with RMIT.

“The University is working strongly and collaboratively with our First Peoples and we package up the work from many of these activities so they can benefit everyone,” she said.

“For example, with the studios and other design projects, the communities can take these to wider community groups, councils or Government to try and get their vision built.

“We’re heading towards a future where our shared knowledge becomes part of our planning and thinking.

“Jock and Christine and their colleagues have been doing that for a long time with their field trips.

"It’s now about grounding that into place and recognising that everybody has a way of telling stories and ways of being that can contribute to our shared futures.”

Story: Kate Milkins

12 November 2020

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12 November 2020

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  • Student experience
  • Urban Design
  • Indigenous Australia

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer