The Indigenous community of Yarrabah in far north Queensland was the focus of architecture who were given the unique opportunity to work with community leaders on an affordable housing project.
Known as the Burri Gummin (‘one fire’) Affordable Housing Project, the students were contributing to an ongoing housing project led by a working party of Yarrabah Traditional Owners and local residents.
The project was facilitated by two Cairns-based, non-profit organisations: Worklink, an employment support group, and the Centre for Appropriate Technology, servicing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities living in remote areas of Australia.
Sixteen Master of Architecture students were invited onto Gunggandji country in far north Queensland to consult with community leaders on environmentally sustainable and culturally sensitive housing designs suited to the hot and humid tropics.
The University of Sydney’s Michael Mossman, one of the senior lecturers in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning driving the project, said, “The challenge was facilitating the student immersion and seeing how they would engage with Gunggandji country, the Yarrabah community, and the project brief. The students were overwhelmingly positive and have opened the door for future engagement with the Yarrabah community.”
Vince Schreiber, the King of Yarrabah and a representative of the working party on the Burri Gummin Affordable Housing Project commented on the student concepts: “They really took on some important information about what the land is all about, how we connect to country, and they really integrated it into the planning and the project itself.”
Vi Le, a recent graduate of Master of Architecture at the University of Sydney, was one of four alumni who worked on the project as a student mentor. She believes it was a unique opportunity as “the students had real clients, a real site that they visited and explored, and an actual community they had to respond to, all while tackling complex policy and cultural issues that usually get labelled ‘too difficult’ for a tertiary design project. The greatest challenge was having only two days in Yarrabah to learn from the community and observe the changing weather of a tropical climate.”
Vi Le believes that the students learned how crucial it is to engage with the local community. “Working with specific people with specific needs and expectations made the project very real for the students and gave them a real sense of social justice and responsibility.
“The architecture profession needs to self-reflect on what it really means to be an architect in an age of climate change, social injustices, in the absence of political will and leadership. We cannot simply rely on drawings of buildings that do not address the wider issues or are illegible to most people outside of our profession,” she said.
Michael Mossman, who has historical connections to Gunggandji country, added, “The experience was special for me, as it provided a chance to work with a community where I have strong historical links and gave me the opportunity to reconnect to place. The community was wonderful in welcoming staff and students onto country and sharing valuable knowledge, which we accepted with great privilege.”
The project is the subject of a new exhibition “Venice | Yarrabah Lines of Enquiry” that officially opened on March 9. It features drawings of the students’ housing concepts and video used to present their design ideas to the Yarrabah community.
The Yarrabah housing project is displayed alongside architectural models exhibited at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale by another group of Master of Architecture students.