The revelation late on Saturday 14th October that the referendum to change the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice had failed was a great disappointment to the many who had supported the Voice as a mechanism to improve the standing, position and welfare of our First Nations Peoples.  In recognition of the Yes campaign’s request for a week of silence and in deep respect for the indigenous community, the Institute has held back from any discussion of the Voice to Parliament during this period of silence.

The Institute, through the Board, National Council with its First Nations Advisory Committee, as well as the Victorian Chapter Council (and other Chapter Councils) recognised that this was an issue of basic human rights rather than partisan politics, and accordingly supported and endorsed both the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Voice to Parliament.

At this time, it’s important to reach out to, encourage and support our First Nations Peoples, including fellow architects, who worked so hard to educate the wider community on the history, culture and diversity of First Nations Peoples and how alteration of the Constitution would provide recognition of their quintessential part in the Australian community, as well as provide a mechanism to address systemic injustices that have occurred since European settlement.  No doubt there will be a sadness and grieving in indigenous communities as they fall back upon their resilient character to rally and to consider how they might move forward with renewed energy.   Although it is of little consolation, there is no doubt that this debate has been a significant opportunity for our community to upskill in its knowledge and understanding of First Nations Peoples.  Hopefully this will act as a sure foundation upon which to continue this journey of recognition and reconciliation.

As architects, it is incumbent upon us to grow in our knowledge of First Nations Peoples and their understanding of Country in our design of the built environment.  The Architects Accreditation Council of Australia’s National Standard of Competency for Architects has set out sixty performance criteria (PC) for the professional capability of architects, against which all graduates intending to register will be judged and against which the community we serve should reasonably expect some knowledge from all architects.

Considerably expanded in 2021, the National Standard of Competency for Architects includes the following criteria which directly relate to an understanding of First Nations Peoples and Country:

PC 3  Understand, demonstrate and apply the principles of project planning, considering implications for Country, environmental sustainability, communities, stakeholders and project costs.

PC 8  Understand and be able to implement culturally responsive and meaningful engagement processes that respect the importance of Country and reciprocal relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples across architectural services.

PC 17  Have an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ aspirations to care for Country and how these inform architectural design.

PC 27  Understand how to embed the knowledge, worldviews and perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, shared through engagement processes, into the conceptual design in a meaningful, respectful and appropriate way.

PC 36  Be able to apply creative imagination, design precedents, emergent knowledge, critical evaluation and continued engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to produce a coherent project design. This should be resolved in terms of supporting health and wellbeing outcomes for Country, site planning, formal composition, spatial planning and circulation as appropriate to the project brief and all other factors affecting the project.

PC 45  Understand processes for selecting materials, finishes, fittings, components and systems, based on consideration of quality and performance standards, the impact on Country and the environment, and the whole life carbon impact of the project.  Be able to nominate and integrate quality and performance standards with regard to selected materials, finishes, fittings, components and systems, considering the impact on Country and the environment, and the whole life carbon impact of the project. This includes integrating life cycle assessments and other expertise and advice from consultants.

The Institute has a number of Continuing Professional Development units available to improve member’s understanding of First Nations Peoples and designing for Country, and in February next year has organised a symposium in Hobart called Country.Culture.Community where knowledgeable speakers will present on this topic. In addition, the Institute’s National Conference, Unprecedented, taking place next week in Canberra, will feature a number of sessions on designing for Country.

Regardless of Saturday’s referendum result, our upskilling on First Nations knowledge and designing for Country must continue.

David Wagner FRAIA
President of the Victorian Chapter

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