Connections to Country will increasingly inform the procurement, planning, design and delivery of built environment projects across Australia.

At the Australian Institute of Architects, we’re seeking to raise the level of consideration of impacts on Country to the heart of project decision-making.

At the heart of the architectural profession is the importance of design and culture intrinsically linked in a creative process that can transform concepts into tangible built projects.

This is an opportunity to develop further a new Australian design ethos, grounded in First Nations knowledge and expertise.

It means incorporating nature, people and design holistically, instead of prioritising people and their needs at the apex of design planning[1].

Further, genuine engagement with First Nations about land use should also be a critical focus and a demonstration of respect.

A recent panel highlighted the inclusive approach in the delivery of Melbourne’s Yagan Square at South Bank.

Designing for Country acknowledges and respects the deep cultural and spiritual significance that First Nations peoples hold towards the land. It recognises their ongoing connection to Country and the need to preserve and celebrate their rich cultural heritage.

Respecting Country already forms part of the 2021 National Standard of Competency for Architects.

The Standard outlines the skills, knowledge, and capabilities required for architects to fulfil their ethical responsibilities towards First Nations’ ongoing connection and custodianship of Country, as well as the profession’s obligations to the environment and the transition to a net zero built environment. These responsibilities form the foundation of architectural practice.

At a minimum, the standard requires the protection of existing cultural materials and ensuring projects do no further harm to culture and the environment.

At its best, this approach to design celebrates Country through a project. Designing for Country is not a regulatory or professional requirement; it is an ethical imperative.

Architects have a responsibility to create spaces to respect their place and culture, and contribute to a better future.

This contributed to the Institute’s recent decision to support The Voice and the Yes campaign in this year’s referendum for Constitutional Recognition of First Nations Peoples.

This was a considered step. The Institute’s First Nations Advisory Committee (FNAC) co-chairs, Sarah Lynn Rees and Paul Memmott, led a consultation process with its 14 Committee and Cultural Reference Panel members, considering arguments for and against cases.

The FNAC members reached consensus and decided in unison to support the for case, before the Board and then the National Council of the Institute also voted to support the yes position.

Announcing the position, we took the view that the establishment of a Voice to Parliament was an essential first step towards achieving reconciliation and upholding First Nations’ rights to self-determination.

The issue of supporting the Voice to Parliament is not a matter of politics but one based on principle. Our support for the Yes campaign aligns with the Institute’s ongoing commitment to reconciliation and reflects a just and inclusive approach to decision-making processes that impact First Nations people.

The Institute included a statement of recognition in the organisation’s constitution in 2020, and has enshrined a First Nations voice within the highest levels of its governance structure.



By Shannon Battison, Immediate Past President, Australian Institute of Architects