05 Aug 21

Designing a stronger connection to Country

Plans for the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre (AACC) in Adelaide, Australia, have entered the South Australian planning approval process, after being submitted to the State Commission Assessment Panel. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Woods Bagot, the AACC is a new paradigm in cultural space design, says DS+R partner Charles Renfro. “Through deeper and wider engagement via the Aboriginal Reference Group, our design speaks to and embraces Aboriginal shared values and references forms found in Aboriginal art and cultures.

“Wholly connected to the landscape, the design embeds the lower ground level into the site and includes an outdoor gallery cantilevered over the terraced landscape,” said Mr. Renfro.

A significant proportion of the site will be established with a combination of plants and vegetation, paving, walls, terracing, seating and a range of water features. A series of interconnected pathways will wind around the building and flow into smaller, quiet spaces throughout the site to enable visitors to take time out from the city environment and immerse themselves into the landscape.

The AACC is a project whose significance has captured the simultaneous attention of the nation and the world. Woods Bagot principal Rosina Di Maria said the team is aware of the profound responsibility.

“This project is a path to reconciliation, an important moment in setting the future for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

“We’re designing a vessel to hold—to nurture and care for—the stories of the world’s oldest and resilient, continuous culture on earth. The design must speak to the whole nation and especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia.”

Since the reference design for the building was unveiled in February 2021, the concept has developed through deeper and wider engagement with Aboriginal communities as part of the collaborative design process.

“Driven by truth telling and transparency and staying true to the original design narrative, the design has been led by engagement with the Aboriginal Reference Group,” said Ms Di Maria.

Creating stronger connection to Country, the feature gallery is now completely outdoors, and the building more decisively originates from the earth with columns that appear to grow from out of the ground. The landscape takes on more fluidity.

“The design team’s role has always been to listen to and translate the aspirations and ambitions of the ARG into a design response. The architecture evokes a sense of welcome to all visitors – particularly First Nations peoples – and a connection to culture offered through the human experience,” Ms Di Maria said.

Grounded on Kaurna land at Lot Fourteen the centre will provide a platform for First Nations people to share their cultures and tell their stories. The design includes spaces for permanent and visiting exhibitions, cultural performances, meetings and ceremonies, gatherings and events, and a café and retail space.

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