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Listening to Country at the Architectus Design Charrette 13

Kicking off Charrette 13, Kuku Yalanji and Tolai woman Theri Yip, from the Brisbane studio, reflects on frameworks for looking to the future.

Over three days, and across five Australian states, Architectus listened to, tested, and engaged with ideas about what makes a resilient city, looking specifically at three major Sydney sites. We asked two critical questions: How do we understand Listening to Country within our design process? And, what does it mean to collaborate and begin designing from a position of mutual understanding?

Country is culture, spirituality, language, lore, family and identity. Country relates to all aspects of existence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. To me, Country is just as Professor Dennis Foley describes it: “The land is the mother, and we are of the land; we do not own the land rather the land owns us. The land is our food, our culture, our spirit and our identity.”

My mother land encompasses the Daintree Rainforest. Entrusted with the knowledge and responsibility of caring for this Country goes beyond its physical elements. Rather, it gives me a deep sense of purpose and belonging. In our modern language, it is hard to grasp this concept as connection to Country is inherent. Modern constructs of land and identification do not coincide with it either. As We Al-li Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson AM once said, “Land shapes people just as people shape their land”. We have a unique opportunity as designers to influence both.

I recently came across an article about respectful design frameworks, specifically incorporating Indigenous knowledge in the process. “When embarking on cross-cultural projects, it is easy to end up speaking and thinking culturally in binary: Western versus non-Western, myself versus ‘the other’. When looking at those binaries in relation to the past and post-colonialism, they suggest a strong hierarchical division.”

What the authors talk about is balancing out those hierarchies with what they call the Third Space – a space in which there is no dominant identity. It is built up from attributes brought in by the different actors. Those attributes are dynamic, shaping unpredictable and changing combinations within Third Space. I found this sentiment really interesting and powerful and hopefully we, as designers, can start creating a common ground such as this.

Photographed: Michael Mossman, Lecturer & Researcher at the University of Sydney School of Architecture Design and Planning, and Christian Hampson, CEO of Yerrabingin.

Photo by Tom Evangelidis

Listening to Country - Design Charrette 13

The Architectus Sustainability Framework acknowledges ongoing First Nations cultural heritage and the ways in which local communities and ecologies have responded to change over time. It was important that we incorporated shared histories of cultural landscape and that Indigenous ways of knowing, ways of being, and ways of doing were respected as we look to the future of the Bays West precinct.

The following sites were investigated during the Design Charrette, and our Team Leaders were asked how Listening to Country resonated with the design process:

White Bay Sketch - Design Charrette 13

Site 1: White Bay

“The essence of our takeaway from Theri was on collaboration and sustainability. Working in a collaborative way was important. Listening to different people’s opinions and thoughts, considering multiple opportunities and balancing it all.

We recognise that the past is signified through the concrete Power Station. We want to reintroduce that crumbled past and combine it towards the future project to reconcile the different times. We propose a rehabilitation of the site with the landscape creating more sustainable native habitats, wetlands, coves, flora and fauna.”

–Tany Tan, Sydney, Team 2 Leader

Site 2: Glebe Island

“The concept of our design narrative was ‘take, take, give’. The site had an extensive history of taking from Country: the land title, the natural topology, primary resources and habitat. We envisage a new precinct that re-generates these natural resources and re-establishes a lost connection back to the water’s edge, both as a meeting place for the people and a source of closed-loop food production.”

–Peter Grealy, Brisbane, Team 3 Leader

“We identified that water is particularly significant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural identities – with people characterised, for example, as Saltwater people, Freshwater people or Bitterwater people. Glebe Island sits at the confluence of all three waters and was known as a place to gather, celebrate culture and perform ceremonies.

The shoreline/edge became an important condition for us to study. Our design attempts to reconnect with Country through a ‘pealing back’ gesture of the harsh concrete edge, reinstating natural ecosystems in its place.”

Sean Dervan, Brisbane, Team 4 Leader

Rozelle Bay - Design Charrette 13

Site 3: Rozelle Bay

This scheme acknowledges the Freshwater and Saltwater stories and how these narratives connected communities. To borrow from Shannon Foster – D’harawal Saltwater Knowledge Keeper, “The stretch of Country now known as Bays West has been known for millennia as Gari Gurad/Nura (Saltwater Country) and Nattai Gurad/Nura (Freshwater Country) … For thousands of generations, local Aboriginal people have lived an abundant and sustainable lifestyle within a complex kinship system of numerous families and communities including the D’harawal, Dharug, Eora, Gai-mariagal, Gundangara and Guringai peoples, among many others.”

–Jonathan Dalbert, Sydney, Team 6 Leader