Open House Melbourne: Building on Country

Open House Melbourne: Building on Country

Hear RMIT architecture, design and landscape experts discuss 'building on country' at two important events, as part of the Open House Melbourne 2022 program, Built/Unbuilt.

Our experts include Beau de Belle (Gamilaraay architecture graduate and RMIT VC Indigenous Pre-Doctoral Fellow); Professor N’arwee't Carolyn Briggs AM (Boon Wurrung senior elder, chairperson and founder of the Boon Wurrung Foundation, RMIT Elder in Research); Dr Christine Phillips (Senior Lecturer, RMIT Architecture Program); and Jock Gilbert (Program Manager, RMIT Bachelor of Landscape Architectural Design Program).

Ahead of the event, we asked Jock Gilbert, on behalf of the team, about what ‘Building on Country’ means and how important it is to have public discussions about the topic at events like Open House Melbourne.

In basic terms, how does Building on Country work?

We live and practice in a country that enjoys over 60,000+ years of living culture. As designers we have an obligation to understand and recognise this along with the responsibilities inherent in it - we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that we are always ‘on Country’ (which has never been ceded) and that has implications for design. If we are building on Country, we must design with Country, shaping our built environments through understand design as an act of reconciliation which supports Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. 

In the School of Architecture and Urban Design at RMIT, we bring students on that journey by embedding and embodying this approach in our design studio pedagogy. First Nations knowledge holders including N'Arwee't Carolyn and Beau play integral roles in guiding that journey along with our many external partner organisations, Traditional Owners and knowledge holders.

How important is it to be having public conversations like this, about the built environment and responding to the essence of Country and its people?

Our students graduate with the capacity to have confident in forming respectful relationships with Indigenous knowledge, knowledge holders, Country and communities and to influence the design practices with whom they are employed to do the same. We are growing the capacity of academics, students and community members and organisations in a mutually informing relationship and this is further strengthened by public conversations which foreground this work as well as provoking new conversations.

What is the impact when we respond to, engage with and respect the essence of Country and its people when it comes to our built environment?

In their recent book, Design: Building on Country, designers Paul Memmott and Alison Page draw heavily on the key concepts of “place” and “Country,” in calling for a New Australian Design. 

They link these back to traditional knowledges and to the way these concepts can contribute to more positive environmental outcomes in projects. By acknowledging the intrinsic link between the concepts of place and Country to traditional knowledge, the design framework of New Australian Design necessarily foregrounds the positive environmental impacts of design outcomes derived through the framework.

Paul and Alison note that design generated this way has a lighter environmental footprint, requires fewer natural resources in construction and is often biophilic. Designed and built outcomes arising from this approach are necessarily expressive of culture, inclusive, experientially rich and functional. This multiplicity of benefits accrues, in addition to the meeting of our obligations as designers on unceded lands, from a practice in which design with Country is embedded.

For more information, visit the Open House Melbourne 2022 program, Built/Unbuilt.

RMIT experts will be speaking at two public events, This is Public:Built/Unbuilt and Building on Country.



Story: Rachel Wells


  • Architecture
  • Indigenous
  • 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 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.