The Shara Clarke Aboriginal Cultural and Educational Centre
- RMIT University
- Uncle Leonard Clarke
- Christine Phillips
- Stasinos Mantzis
- Ava Clifforth
During 2020, I was lucky to partake in RMIT’s design studio (On Country) run by Christine Phillips and Stasinos Mantzis. The studio was introduced to our enthusiastic and inspiring client, Uncle Lenny Clarke whom is a highly regarded indigenous elder and humans rights advocate from a historic region in Victoria known as Framlingham (Kirrae Whurrong country). This project was designed on Uncle Lenny’s native and extensive land in Framlingham and houses an interchangeable theatre and concert hall space, musical learning space and a large outdoor field which comes summer time, functions as a art and music festival space.
The Archie Roach Music Hall (theatre) was designed to emulate the geological features of the Western Vic Volcanic Plains. Visitors enter the warm, hearth like centre of the theatre via the exterior spiral balconies. This pathway is multi-functional, with nooks and crannies for reading, art exhibitions and constantly shifting framed views of Country. The visitor is rewarded with panoramic views of the Framlingham forest and Hopkins river. A water collection pool echoes the surrounding Maar lakes that form on top of volcanoes in the region.
The design brief alone expects for the building to have a more positive and hopeful, outlook of Indigenous culture and thus Australian culture/identity too. The building had to be as sustainable as possible to stay true to the way of which the land is perceived by Indigenous cultures all around the world, in that the land has to be nurtured and cared for consistently, through a lens that is understanding of the contextual climate and native surroundings. Our design uses locally Victorian sourced blackbutt wood as a main structural element, Solar panels ambitiously form the wings of the Reginald Saunders canopy and a sculptural irrigation system travels throughout the large site, nurturing surrounding flora and fauna.
Whilst designing the project, we grew aware of the importance of consideration for the design’s local Indigenous history. This consideration made clearly by our studio tutors should be one that is necessary for any Australian designer or architect designing on ‘Australian’ land. Due to our design brief and client our building not only acknowledges the contextual history of the site but fundamentally intends to celebrate it and take inspiration from the sites deep and complex roots, by which we spoke regularly with Uncle Lenny to assist in building a better understanding of the local Kirrae Whurrong context. The design build’s upon the status of Victoria’s design and creative culture, in that the site intends to celebrate local Indigenous history, music and contemporary culture, which is something that seems to have emerged in Victorian design and will further continue to do so as it should.
The site is intended to be a self-sufficient and dynamic space that adheres and responds to the surrounding climate and change in Kulin Nation season. The Reginald Saunders canopy flaps to the hymns of the wind, the surrounding nets are interchangeable and overgrown with native and international flora, the centre of the site changes from an enclosed and personal theatre space to an open and acoustically layered concert hall space and the large festival sized carpark located near the main road becomes a market, selling locally sourced art and native agriculture when not used for a large event. The site’s pathway systems are greatly enforced by the users, whom we characterize in our project as the ‘eels’. They similarly journey through a very organic and unsteady path. An ambiguous path that is symbolic to the deep and complex history of Framlingham but also functions as one that educates, and entertains the user.
Ultimately our intention for the Shara Clarke Aboriginal Cultural and Education Centre is to encourage visitors to connect with country in a new way. We challenge conventional modes of architecture as a predominately human-centric domain by dialling up the parameters of playfulness, intrigue and explorability. Our Site is dynamic, productive and sustainable; designed as an all encompassing conduit for community and environmental engagement.