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Creating with connection

Date: 6月 10, 2024
Category: Insights
T3 D Install UTAS Riawunna Seating 03 web

What does a true partnership between designers and First Nations peoples look like? Here, Anne-Marie Pisani, First Peoples’ Partnerships and Design Lead, reflects on the Riawunna Garden project at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and argues that genuine collaboration requires curiosity, generosity, and an equitable partnership that looks to benefit all.

We often begin new projects by asking questions: Do we understand the pre-conceived ideas we bring to our work? What happens when we try to understand these pre-conceptions and actively challenge them?

The Riawunna Garden project can provide some interesting answers. The garden formed part of the relocation of the Riawunna Centre for Aboriginal Education from Invermay to Inveresk. ASPECT Studios was engaged to undertake the full landscape design for the project with Wardle architects. As a starting point, we looked to the Centre’s past: In the late 1990s, when the landscape of the Invermay centre was designed, the community were actively involved by designers Urban Initiatives in association with Sinatra Murphy. We understood the significance of this relocation in the development of this new garden and important cultural protocols that would need to be followed.

Our approach therefore began with a genuine interest in building a relationship with staff and the community to understand how we could best help them. Previous Head of Service for Riawunna, Caroline Spotswood, was generous in sharing an understanding of the university and broader Indigenous communities from the local area, from other parts of Tasmania and from across the Country. We are conscious of the cultural load that communities carry and always consider how we can take responsibility and share this load.

T3 D Install UTAS Riawunna Performance Area 02 web

We visited the community in Invermay, and talked about who they were, what the new place meant, and what they needed of it. By taking the time to have these conversations, we were able to understand the significance of the community’s connections to Country and develop a shared understanding of important cultural values and practices. We also spent time together on the new university campus – the future home for Riawunna – to provide an opportunity to explore and best inform the design from the very beginning. Outcomes of these on-site meetings informed the final location of the garden, which was moved, expanded and included the realignment of an easement in finalising its current location on the northeast side of the building. UTAS and Wardle Architects respected the outcomes of these conversations and worked closely with us to see the design to fruition, which ultimately lead to the successful outcome not only for the university, but also for the community.

At the same time, UTAS had formed a Tasmanian Aboriginal Reference Group to guide and embed First Peoples’ interests into the University’s overall Northern Transformation project. The outcome of several workshops resulted in the framework document ‘’Embedding Knowledges of Country at Inveresk (April to November 2019)’’. This framework identified a set of design drivers for how a Tasmanian Aboriginal presence could be physically represented across the campus, and this shaped decisions about some of the elements that were included.

Ongoing conversations and workshops with the greater Riawunna community further identified four key design principles which directly aligned with the design drivers. These design principles spoke directly of the importance of cultural values and practices of community whilst still allowing for creativity within the design process.

These were:
1. Embed Indigenous ‘’Knowledges of Country’’ – Understanding that you are walking on Country through a strong cultural identity of the place, the elements and cultural practices
2. Celebrate cultural performance and ceremony – Development of a central and connected performance space to pass down knowledge. is central to building the spirit of place
3. Woven landscape for a connected community – Creating a strong link between a variety of gathering and community spaces
4. Ensure authentic Indigenous representation – Use of authentic local and Indigenous materials and plants

Our response to these design principles focused on a strong cultural identity of place – so that everyone was aware they were walking on Aboriginal Country through the design of the landscape and the incorporation of cultural practices.
T3 D Install UTAS Riawunna Basket Inspired Seating Detail 01 web

Riawunna Garden is centred around a cultural performance and ceremonial space, which offers a place for education, contemplation and connection.

The cultural practice of weaving was used conceptually to tie together a series of spaces. It was important to ensure there was a strong visual and physical connection between Riawunna’s separate staff and community terraces and the central cultural garden.

Authentic local materials were selected and sourced based on local knowledge and used to build a new connections and a unique spirit of place. A community project was initiated and undertaken by Riawunna where community collected small shells from all coastal regions around Tasmania which were then screeded into the top layer of the concrete entrance path, symbolising a connection to Palawa people from all areas of Tasmania.

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Additional key elements that developed through the collaborative design process include:

Screens – the open location of the garden in relation to both an occasional passing by a tourist tram along the outer edge of the garden and the public walkway on top of the levy wall called for some screening to provide some level of privacy (for cultural practices) whilst remaining open, safe and allowing for ample sunlight penetration into the garden at all times of the year.

Firepit – The lid of the firepit presented an opportunity for cultural interpretation of the representation of fire. Similarly, the area beneath the firepit was used to represent where the three rivers come together.

Main Shelter – in addition to it acting as a strong cultural identity, an additional benefit to the community are the removable circular frames that sit on the underside of the canopy – they are used in weaving workshops where weaving as a cultural practice is taught and passed on through the community. These frames are utilsed in this process and once the weaving of the frames are completed they are fixed into place on the underside of the shelter. In addition to the cultural identity and educational process, these frames also act as a visual interest of an ongoing cultural practice, the art of weaving.
Main Shelter
Left to right: Jerome Dobinson, Amanda Kay, Genie Battese, Lynne Spotswood, Anne-Marie Pisani, Dave Warrener
With additional support needed to translate and fabricate the artists’ drawings into built form, and with our team located in Melbourne, it was agreed to bring on the local T3D Studio team of Amanda Kay and Jerome Dobinson to work closely with the artists, ASPECT Studios and the University of Tasmania to develop and organise construction of the artist-informed design elements. This relationship flowed seamlessly through the whole design process, from conception through to the fabrication of the art-informed elements. Instrumental to the success was the teams genuine approach to co-design process.

This resulted in two complementary artwork forms combined into an overall striking design element. Embedded glass making art of emerging artist Genie Battese, together with artwork by an Lynne Spotswood. Artwork of plants was framed around the local connection to Country, whilst the emerging artists work was about community, and together both pieces provided a community narrative which translated beautifully into screen elements. This also provided a number of benefits to community beyond the immediate built form – in addition to the passing on of weaving as a cultural practice, it also provided the opportunity for a Tasmanian Aboriginal emerging artist to develop and showcase her unique talent.
Cluster stones have also been included in the design and the recognition of the importance of connection to water although not being able to visually connect with, is known to be in the form of the river on the other side of the adjacent levy wall.

In an extension to further connection with community – and particularly those connected with the former location of Riawunna at the Newham campus -- the ashes from the firepit at Riawunna Newham were collected and laid into the new Riawunna firepit at Inveresk – symbolising a strong connection to all those who were and who are connected to Riawunna. The new firepit was lit in the late afternoon of 16th November 2023 at the official opening of the Riawunna Garden. This official opening signaled the final part of ASPECT Studios’s involvement in the project in a literal sense, but the relationships built, stories and understanding shared will remain and influence us for life. We hope the community will continue to enjoy gathering within the garden, and to continue to strengthen their relationships with each other, proudly welcome Indigenous people from other places and continue to share their cultural practices with future generations.

Our experience in working collaboratively with Indigenous communities is that, generally, the community shares so much of themselves and their knowledge with us, to the benefit of our understanding and work. Realistically, this can sometimes make our own contribution as designers feel less generous. We can, and should, aim to contribute more.

This has been an outstanding example of how landscape architects and designers can co-design and co-deliver projects with Traditional Custodians because collectively we understood that the design process is much more than developing the design on paper. Its shows that a designer's approach to the project can bring the community together, and how we can share our expertise and help those we work with beyond the boundary of the project.

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PHOTOGRAPHY: T3D Studio and ASPECT Studios

COLLABORATORS: Jerome Dobinson and Amanda Kay (T3D Studio), Genie Battese (Artist), Lynne Spotswood (Artist), Anne-Marie Pisani (ASPECT Studios), Dave Warrener (Head of Service, Riawunna Centre for Aboriginal Education, UTAS) and Caroline Spottswood (former Head of Service, Riawunna Centre for Aboriginal Education, UTAS)