Our best architecture comes from listening, observing and engaging with the surrounding environment and responding with care and consideration.

Design and architecture have the power to shape our communities, culture and identities. It can reflect our ethos and demonstrate connections to our heritage. This is a power for good.

Increasingly, architecture is integrating First Nations principles into modern architecture practices.

One of the leading academics on this issue, the University of Sydney School of Architecture, Associate Dean Indigenous, Michael Mossman, says, “Country is the realm that surrounds us all, with different understandings imminent in each of us”.

Connections to Country involve cultural respect, storytelling and community engagement in architectural design and practice.

As we draw a line under the year 2023 – the year in which The Voice referendum did not secure the double majority required to proceed – we as an architecture profession will continue to engage and connect with our local, global and Country surroundings.

The Australian Institute of Architects is working with professionals to deepen industry awareness and knowledge of First Nations principles, and to advance the understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander connections to lands and waters.

We support professional commitments to partnerships grounded in acknowledgement and respect.

Next year, the Institute will hold the Country. Culture. Community continuing professional development event in nipaluna (Hobart) from February 14 to 16 – to delve into the practicalities of connecting and designing with Country.

The program aims to help participants understand concepts such as Connecting with Country, engaging with communities, and intercultural design. It covers the requirements of the 2021 National Standard of Competency for Architects (NSCA)’s eight performance criteria related to Country, First Nations cultures and communities. The standards formalised these proficiencies as professional obligations.

Attendees for the three days will learn successful approaches to intercultural design and artist collaboration, consulting with First Nations people effectively and engaging respectfully, balancing community needs and expectations with regulations such as the National Construction Code, and incorporating environment-aware, eco-sensitive lighting and materials principles.

It will also delve into the NSCA competencies around project planning implications for Country, being culturally responsive, and embedding the knowledge, worldviews and perspectives of First Nations peoples.

Architects are well-placed to deliver practical engagement to bridge Australia’s understanding gaps.

As described by Dr Mossman, Country is an ever-evolving entity that is deeply connected with all beings, and architecture should reflect that interconnectedness.

By understanding Country’s memories and activities associated with a place, architects can create designs that reflect the past, present, and future.

“On this continent, Country and our First Nations cultures are distinct and have the potential to deeply enrich our architectural practices and the process we undertake to arrive at a physical manifestation of our thoughts,” he says.

Techniques such as yarning circles and learning exchanges are key to developing further understanding, such as those undertaken about the Uluru Statement of the Heart.

At the Institute, we were strong supporters of the Yes campaign for Voice, Treaty and Truth as outlined in the Statement, and continue to be, despite the significant No result in October.

We will continue to support our First Nations communities through awareness, openness and listening.

This was reinforced to us at the National Architecture Conference, where esteemed journalist and writer Stan Grant challenged the profession to reexamine our purpose and reconsider its meaning.

Everyone benefits from great architecture and, as professionals, we all have a responsibility to promote and articulate the critical role of design excellence, including connections to Country.

In 2024, we will further our engagement with First Nations Australians through our First Nations Advisory Committee and Cultural Reference Panel, additional education and the development of a  Reconciliation Action Plan.

At the Institute, we are also advancing our advocacy around sustainability and the housing affordability challenge.

Architects are positioned to design and develop a range of desperately needed affordable housing. It must be flexible and diverse, and integrated with transport and social infrastructure.

Linked to this are the positive actions architects can take to reduce carbon emissions through their work.

By procuring materials to increase energy efficiency and reduce embodied carbon, we can be part of the solution. By considering how much we need and reducing the scale of what we build, we can begin to reduce our construction waste output. By working and thinking in a way that responds to place and to country we can evolve our profession to be truly responsible and deeply informed.

By Stuart Tanner, National President, Australian Institute of Architects



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