The multi-award winning Bower Studio links indigenous community groups with postgraduate architecture students and staff from the University of Melbourne. Responding to each community’s call for specific infrastructure projects we collaborate in the design and construction phases and respond to both short and long-term goals.
We only work in communities when invited by the leaders and when the community contributes a local workforce. This builds stronger relationships, more meaningful outcomes and ensures that all participants experience the project as a partnership. This also ensures that the architecture students return to Melbourne with stronger and more relevant capacities to suggest future community improvements.
We make a special effort to revisit our earlier projects, reflect on the process and outcomes, to ensure that we learn from the experiences and see how to improve into the future. We have also been fortunate, when funding permits, to return to design and build in communities we have worked previously. In many cases the first project we share with a community is the ‘entrée’ and we make plans to return for the ‘main course’!! Lots of consultation, undertaken over many visits, helps ensure we understand and share the same long-term vision as our partners.
We are often asked how the Bower Studio got its name. Does it come from the bowerbird that makes an intricate nest for its family with a variety of bits and pieces? Is it because a ‘bower shelter’ or ‘bough shelter’ is the common name for a shelter used by many indigenous people? Yeah, that’s pretty much right on both counts!
The Bower Studios are a sequence of Master of Architecture design projects at The University of Melbourne’s School of Design. The program enables select groups of post-graduate students to design and build community infrastructure in remote communities in Australia and Papua New Guinea. The Bower Studio learning environment is not limited to creating opportunities for university students alone. Enhancing the learning outcomes for the partner communities is also a priority and we work to facilitate pathways to sustainable employment.
The Bower Studio sets itself from other Design/Build programs because of its ‘rolling program’ that has each new cohort of students completing their main design contribution only once they have undertaken their onsite building works and consulted with a wide range of community members. This innovative format makes the Bower Studio relevant and robust and builds a strong team of students – many of which return for following projects to mentor new students.
More details of the process can be found in the recently released book The Design-Build Studio: Crafting Meaningful Work in Architectural Education Edited by Tolya Stonorov and released by Routledge.
Research and Project Grants
- 2017 Thamarrurr Development Corporation ‘Wadeye Cultural Hub’ ($70,000)
- 2017 Hallmark Indigenous Research Initiative ‘Wadeye Cultural Hub’ ($40,000)
- 2016 PNG Heads of Mission Direct Aid Program ’Sipaia Ablutions Facility and Training’ ($40,000)
- 2016 Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation ‘Wave Hill Walk-off Pavilions’ ($70,000)
- 2015 MacDonnell Regional Council ‘Community Infrastructure – Areyonga and Amoonguna’ ($25,000)
- 2014 PNG Heads of Mission Direct Aid Program ’Suanum Neo-natal Clinic and Ablutions Facility’ ($40,000)
- 2014 MacDonnell Regional Council ‘Community Infrastructure – Titjikala’ ($15,000)
- 2013 Belyuen Community Council ‘Community Infrastructure’ ($15,000)
- 2012 PNG Heads of Mission Direct Aid Program ‘Bumbu Ablutions Facility’ ($120,000)
- 2012 Gumala Aboriginal Corporations ‘Our Place – Re-Imagining Indigenous Housing’ ($62,000)
- 2012 Yilli Rreung Aboriginal Corporations ‘Visions for Bagot Village’ ($30,000)
- 2012 Gumala Aboriginal Corporations ‘Bellary Springs Community Health Centre’ ($500,000)
- 2011 Gumala Aboriginal Corporations ‘0-5 Early Learning Centre’ Wakathuni ($500,000)
- 2010 FaHCSIA ‘Media Box’ Gudorrka & Knuckeys Lagoon ($260,000)
- 2010 AusAID ‘Bumbu & Serongko Shelter/Drinking Water Project’ ($40,000)
- 2009 FaHCSIA ‘House Renovation’ Gudorrka ($50,000)
- 2009 Rafael Vinoly Architects Research Grant ‘Transformation of Post-Disaster Housing: The Case of Aceh, Indonesia’ ($60,000)
- 2008 Strategic Research Initiative Fund, University of Melbourne, ‘Indigenous Housing: The Sustainable Alternative’ ($25,000)
- 2007 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia/Thailand Institute Research Grant, ‘Sustainable and adaptable housing prototypes for Thailand’s rural communities’ ($16,000)
The Bower Studio team developed the HomesPLUS initiative and first trialled it at Belyuen (2013). Word got around that the participating family really appreciated the outdoor living area and at Titjikala (2014) another two pavilions were chosen from the HomesPLUS catalogue. This led to other pavilions at Amoonguna and Areyonga (2015). HomesPLUS is proving to be a popular process to engage small-scaled Indigenous work teams to construct prefabricated community infrastructure.
HomesPLUS is framed to facilitate the Indigenous partner’s capacity to identify and assist in the construction of his or her own community infrastructure. While many Indigenous housing and infrastructure programs are known to suffer from cost overruns, time blowouts and user dissatisfaction the HomesPLUS program mitigates risk via purposeful consultation, positive community participation and relevant built outcomes.
The HomesPLUS catalogue, prefabrication process and system of delivery breaks with traditional procurement methods. It aims to be economically self-supporting with cost savings allocated to further Indigenous workforce participation.