Elevated Architecture Resonates Through Holistic Environmental Design (EARTHED)

PART 1 of 3 Reset

1.1 People /Cultural and Climate change


This enforced ISO pause for all of us, is a time of reflection and a reminder of past times when we all had more time, and when ‘we’ were once a community. We have all been astounded at the length and breadth of our health professionals and community volunteer’s commitment at this time.  This timely reminder highlights the loss of the ‘sense of community’ we have all felt being eroded over the past decades. Community and community organisations have slowly been replaced by the ‘I’ generation, being fed by advertising, resulting in a consumerism that is never satisfied. Once we had economies where people and the environment mattered,  but now, in this age of the disruptive ‘gig’ economy, it seems that we are returning to a pre- industrial age when most people were skilled ‘artisans’, but corporations now replacing the ‘army’ and ‘church’, which were the other main professions prior the industrial revolution.

The building industry, at least in Australia, has been ‘casualised’ for some time as builders replaced their employed building trades by ‘tradies’ and their ‘utes’. While architects designed the DA’s; BA’s were contracted out to India by project managers, with building certification privatised and inspection services reduced. The result is that finished buildings are not considered to be residential ‘units’ or ‘houses’ anymore but ‘product’. Is it any wonder that we have not seen more ‘sloppy’ high rise residential building!

As architects and designers, rather than rush to our computer or set our AI devices in motion, we all need to take  a ‘cold shower’ and begin again the enjoyable  ‘designing’  journey where the final design is not the destination, but the design journey itself becomes more important.  This requires a mind map (‘road map’) or a checklist of sorts to guide us. We are advocating that such a ‘road map’ could map the ‘designing’ actions (joints) and the urban design elements (bones) to sign post  and a hand sketch record of the design journey. There are three main levels (rungs) along the designing journey where architects and designers can reset the designing agenda. For a practical example I have used the pre-brief consultation work from the ‘Centralia’ project, in Alice Springs, to explore how this mapping and the three ’rung’ approach can inform architectural designing post COVID-19, age of radical uncertainty:-

-PART 1 Reset 1.1 -People /cultural climate change. We have to replace the ‘I’ with the ‘We’ and the natural environment has to be re naturalised – the Green circular economy

-PART 2 Reset 1.2 -Socio- economic sustainability e.g. with climate change we can’t continue to produce objects as ‘I”, if we don’t have the ’We’, as customers and we don’t secure earth’s environment by addressing climate change.-the Real economy

-PART 3 Reset 1.3- Holistic environmental design.

This Includes ethereal aspects of urban design with aspirations such as fun filled, colour, light and public art as a counterpoint to ‘status anxiety’, social distancing etc.

The project ‘Founding’ (basic needs) is based on accepting that Earth’s creation is a finite endeavour. Ever since Marshall McLuhan spoke of a ‘Global Village’ and we all saw the Earth from space for the first time, we consciously realised collectively how finite our Planet ‘A’ is and we also realised that there is no planet ‘B’!  What followed was the mantra to ‘think locally act globally’, which at best, has been mainly an aspiration. But in our creative endeavours we are all equally responsible for adapting the Earth’s fragile environment. In the long term, every object and building, must become non-zero-sum gain i.e. producing more benefits than those consumed, a Green circular economy.

As with any project, ‘Founding’ is at the fulcrum and we proposes  balancing ‘Adapting’ cultural change on one side and ‘Naturalising’ the environment on the other.

‘Adapting’ will be informed by ‘Cultural heritage’- what is the pre-existing cultural heritage of  the local and or the ‘first nation’ peoples, past, present, and future and how to manage and preserve heritage places through the ‘Burra Charter’  The challenge is to how this cultural heritage can be adapted to, and interpret,  the present designing scenario?

‘Naturalising’ will be informed by ‘Natural heritage’ -what is the geography, climate, flora and fauna, and soil etc. and how can this inform the project? (Note this needs to be studied during all seasons, over the 12months). What can be done to express a re-naturalised siting?   What natural products and process can be used in the design e.g. permeable paving, ‘gabion’ stone walls, ‘desert concrete’,  bush milled timbers or at least FSC timbers, stabilised rammed earth, local provenance flora species etc.

‘Centralia’ project

Our architectural response to the ‘Centralia’ pre- brief work has been to first ’listen’ to the project’s  ‘founding’ (basic needs) and the site’s (natural heritage and cultural heritage), having spent time visiting the site and time with the client /users/stakeholders etc.

Adaptive leadership challenge

Cultural change is also required as we have gradually acknowledged that cultures, like the environment, are fragile as witnessed in Australia’s ‘Closing the Gap’ program  for our  ‘first nation’ people, which  has been largely hope-less. This ‘top down’ Technical leadership challenge program has not worked despite the Government’s best intentions. However recently, the ‘first nation’ peoples have come together and risen to the  adaptive leadership challenge  – the transformation of people through accepting the challenge of responsibility for their own destiny, and they proposed the ‘Uluru Statement-from the Heart’ and ‘The Voice to Parliament’. Combined with the Australian Govt. portfolio, which is presently in the hands of an indigenous person, this could result in the adaptive leadership challenge- a reconciliation program designed for both peoples.

However there are other local glimmers of hope. For example, within the Sport development centre, which is part of the ‘Centralia’ Project, Alice Springs, there will be  a sport excellence programme for young indigenous AFL players with short ‘in residence’ programs on campus, devised by Alice Springs local, Bob Clarke (‘Clarkie’). The hope is that the program will be so successful that the best players will form a player base for the Alice Springs ‘Red Devils’ team to join the NTAFL or the SAAFL competition. A parallel aspect to the programme is for the participants to develop ‘whole of life skills’ with the offer of further training in sport and media fields, associated with the on campus Movie and Sound Studios.

So how do we interpret this indigenous aspiration into actual architecture and design the buildings and marketing graphics respectively? One simplistic way is to use the traditional hunting ‘tools’ as icons so that the building and graphics become auto-biographical.

Instead of hunting animals the AFL players are hunting ‘the Ball’.


The ‘Centralia’ master development plan will be informed by not only cultural heritage but by natural heritage with environmental studies and other reports including flooding. Yes even an issue here in the desert, but it will be solved with a ‘no pipes’ Water sensitive urban design (WSUD) approach as pipes will all silt up. The Todd Mall, which is located in the centre of Alice Springs, has successfully integrated WSUD into the town scape. Universal design will also inform a more accessible and secure design in the place making.

Concept section -Stage 1 Stadium

Simplistic graphic


Of course the designing journey, along with the above road map (mind map) to hand, is nothing new.  In modern educational psychology terms of ‘Bloom’s taxonomy’ and Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy behavioural objective needs’ both underpin the modern education/learning practice. The Maslow hierarchy comprises:-

– basic needs of a secure/physiological rung,

-then moving to a social /psychological rung and

– Self-actualisation and the potential creative rung.

As architects we could use this new found time in an age of radical uncertainty to restart a design journey of enjoyment, avoiding the dead ends of anxiety. The destination reached though holistic environmental design will offer hope and create more joy- filled places, resonating with well-being.  This design journey will be further informed by the ‘rungs’ of PART 2 -Socio economic Sustainability (See Sourceable Article 2) and PART 3 Holistic environmental design (See Sourceable Article 3).