Ngarara Place at RMIT
- Greenaway Architects
- Harris HMC
- Charles Solomon
- Aroha Groves
Ngarara Place is a landscape/urban design intervention which builds upon the cultural & campus life of RMIT University.
Situated between University Way, Chemistry Lane and the Old Melbourne Gaol, it recognises the oldest continuing culture in the world, by building a visible presence and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures and histories as connected to the lands of the Kulin Nation in which RMIT stands.
Greenaway Architects drew upon Indigenous knowledge systems, landscape design and public art in collaboration with Indigenous practitioners to showcase connections to the 6/7 Season of the Kulin Nation to demonstrate cultural continuity/adaption.
Connection to Country
The initial starting point was to reinforce the importance of Aboriginal people’s connection to Country.
This notion was woven through as exploration of the six/seven seasons of the Kulin Nation.
Consequently this aspect saw the division of the design into seven sections, being six on the ground plane and one in the vertical dimension (to an adjacent glazed façade).
The demarcation of the ground plane enabled distinct zones for tiered planting, an area for traditional dance/ceremonial practice, amphitheatre seating and a primary focal point being a sculptural laser-cut smoke pit.
The second pivotal element included a number of radiating arms which reach out to adjacent buildings through a broader urban design gesture.
Critically these design features infuse cultural motifs which pick up on Indigenous cultural and artistic practices specific to the South East of Australia, namely traditional carving practices (references to Dendroglyphs – carved trees) as well as body paint, through an etched paving graphic which doubles as the primary access points in the courtyard space.
Contemporary Aboriginal Art
The most visible gesture, signifies the power of art in the public realm, acting as a striking marker in the landscape, being an unashamedly contemporary and specifically curated piece of artwork by Aboriginal digital artist Aroha Groves.
The piece evokes nature, place and connections to Country and acts as a backdrop that reinforces the landscape setting in which it is located.
At a scale of 15.5×8.8m the supergraphic utilises a perforated vinyl decal to the adjacent glazed facade (of Building 15) to provide a bold, colourful and engaging piece of artwork to amplify the signficance of the place.
The space importantly acts as a people centred place of pause or contemplation, within the hustle and bustle of a busy University counteracted by an intimately scaled landscape setting.
Here the existing staircase connected to the adjacent Alumni Courtyard (within the Old Melbourne Gaol precinct) provided an opportunity to amplify a sense of enclosure through the completion of an amphitheatre and seating, using local blackbutt timbers overlooking the green space.
The space subtly engages with alternative ways of reading the landscape, while offering opportunities to question Western connections to the seasons.
Customised ‘pedagogical panels’ (incl. Aboriginal language) engages the public by providing a cultural context of interpretation as a means of cultural exchange.
All planting used are endemic/Indigenous species to the local bio-region incorporating planting to communicate the importance of landscape in sustaining life and cultural practice, including specimens traditionally use for edible, medicinal and practical purposes (ie. for weaving).
The landscape reinforces layers of history and meaning through an active gesture of reconciliation, while infusing Indigenous sensibilities within the heart of the City of Melbourne and begins to broader the frame of reference in which people can connect to place.