2021 Cummeragunja, NSW
2020 Kalkaringi, NT
2019 Kalkaringi, NT
2018 Suanum & 2019 Sirr, PNG
2018 Kalkaringi, NT
2017 Wadeye, NT
2016 Sipaia, PNG
2016 Wave Hill, NT
2015 Areyonga, NT
2015 Amoonguna, NT
2014 Suanum, PNG
2014 Titjikala, NT
2013 Belyuen, NT
2012 Sipaia, PNG
2012 Bellary Springs, WA
2011 Wakathuni, WA
2010 Gudorrka, NT
2010 Knuckeys Lagoon, NT
2010 Morobe Province, PNG
2009 Gudorrka, NT
2008 Gudorrka, NT
2008 Nong Tong Lim, Thailand
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this website may contain images of people who have died.
Bower Studios are a sequence of Master of Architecture build/consult/design projects at The University of Melbourne’s School of Design. They involve students working alongside indigenous groups in remote locations in Australia, Thailand and Papua New Guinea to improve their built environments.
Bower’s leadership team demonstrates diverse and complementary skill sets. Most are ex-Bower graduates who excel at building community relationships and mentoring new student groups.
The Bower Studio thanks its sponsors past and present
- Architecture & Design 11 September 2019: Retrospective showcases Bower Studio’s community projects [Read it on Architecture & Design]
- NITV Radio 10 September 2019: Architectural projects making a difference in remote communities [Read and listion on NITV Radio]
- Shepparton News 12 April 2019: VCAL students complete university subject [Read it on Shepparton News]
- The National newspaper Papua New Guinea 20 December 2018: Aussie students build toilet, classroom for Tumarawa [Read it on The National]
- ABC Radio Darwin 4 July 2018: Interview with Bower Studio/University of Melbourne's David O'Brien
- Green Magazine 18 April 2018: Australian Pavilion at 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale revealed [Read it on Grean Magazine]
- Architecture AU 13 April 2018: Australian projects to hit the world stage at Venice Architecture Biennale [Read it on Architecture AU]
- The Fifth Estate 12 April 2018: Repair and nature-sensitive design at Venice Architecture Biennale [Read it on The Fifth Estate]
- ABC Radio Darwin 5 June 2017
- NT News 8 June 2017: New home to help save artefacts
- ABC Radio Darwin 19 June 2017
- Architecture AU 19 June 2017: Winners Revealed – 2017 NT Architecture Awards [Read it on ArchitectureAU] – Wave Hill NT
- Architecture & Design 19 June 2017: 2017 NT Territory Architecture Awards winners announced [Read it on Architecture & Design]
- Norwich University School of Architecture and Art Design/Build Symposium: April 14, 2017 [Watch on Vimeo]
- NU SoAA D/B Symposium - Relationship of D/B to Practice [Watch on Vimeo]
- ABC Radio Melbourne Breakfast 11 August 2016
- Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association Radio 11 August 2016
- Radio Larrakia 12 August 2016
- ABC Radio Darwin 20 August 2016
- Pursuit 22 August 2016: Indigenous Memory-making meets architecture [Read it on Pursuit]
- EMTV 14 December 2016: Custom-built toilets for Climate Change Adaptation at Morobeen Village
- National Newspaper Papua New Guinea 15 December 2015: Two new toilets in Sipaia to improve sanitation
- ABC Radio Sydney 21 April 2015
- National Indigenous Radio Service 23 April 2015
- ABC Radio Adelaide 23 April 2015
- ABC Radio Northern Territory 27 April 2015 [ Download MP3 (12.4MB) ]
- Koori Radio Sydney 20 April 2015
- SYN FM Melbourne 21 April 2015
- SBS Radio 23 April 2015
- Centralian Advocate 24 April 2015 [ Download as PDF ]
- MUSSE 15 April 2015: Students build shelter with remote Indigenous communities [Download as PDF ]
- The Age 8 May 2015: Architecture students create vital infrastructure in remote communities [Download as PDF ]
- World Architects eMagazine Top 10 worldwide design/build programs that are making a difference.
- Pursuit Magazine, Times Higher Education Supplement March 2014 Indigenous Housing by Design
- Architecture and Design 12 May 2014 Indigenous Outdoor Housing Designed by Architecture Students
- ABC Darwin 6 May 2014
- ABC Alice Springs 6 May 2014
- Darwin Sunday Territorian 18 May 2014
- Koori Mail 21 May 2014
- Centralian Advocate 9 May 2014
- MUSSE May 12, 2014 Designing and building living spaces for remote communities | MUSSE
- Sanctuary Magazine Issue 26 Autumn 2014 Humanitarian Architecture
- ABC Darwin 18 September 2013
- Koori Mail
- Wagaitear Vol 12. No 10. October 2013
- Melbourne University Magazine August 2013 Building for Indigenous Communities
- CSHE 2013 Using ‘real world’ experiences for student learning
- Victorian Architect Winter 2012
- Gumala Radio 29 June 2012
- Architecture and Design’ 16 July 2012 Architecture students collaborate with Pilbara's Indigenous community on new hall
- Container Architecture ‘ArchiTel TV’
- Koori Mail July 11 2012
- Post-Courier 22 November 2012
- MUSSE Jul 24, 2012 Guest Column with Dr David O'Brien | MUSSE
- MUSSE Aug 8, 2012 Architecture, Building and Planning academic honoured by Rio...
- MUSSE Nov 12, 2012 Recognising excellence in teaching | MUSSE
- The Age Newspaper 18 July 2011 Students help build better future for isolated children
- ABC Radio National ‘Bush Telegraph’ 8 July 2011
- ABC Radio North West 27 June 2011
- SBS Radio ‘Living Black’ 22 June 2011
- The Age Newspaper 21 June 2011
- Visions July 15 2011 Construction for Community Podcast
- Pilbara Echo 16 July 2011 Official Opening of the Gumala 0-5 Studio
- ArchDaily 18 July 2011 Early Childhood Learning Centre
- Koori Mail 30 June 2010
- SBS ‘Living Black’ 22 August 2010
- SBS ‘News’ 22 August 2010
- ABC Darwin 18 May 2010 Shipping Containers Help Local Community.
- The Age 6 July 2010
- The Age Voice Vol 6. No 8. September 12 2010 Shelter, Space and a Community Place
- Visions Episode 85. September 17 2010 Making of a Media Box
- Open Architecture Network 2010 Gudorrka and Knuckeys Lagoon Media Boxes.
- ABC Triple J ‘Hack’ 24 August 2009.
- ABC Darwin ‘Morning Show’ 16 June 2009
- ABC1 ‘Stateline’ 3 July 2009
- ABC Radio ‘Connect Asia’ 19 October 2009
2018. Venice Architecture Biennale
The Wave Hill Walk-off Pavilions were selected for the ‘Repair’ exhibition at the Australian Pavilion Australian Institute of Architects
2016. Yali-McNamara Award for Small Project Architecture
Australian Institute of Architects
2015. Innovation Award - Planning and Building
Australian Regional Development (ARDC)
Bower Studio HomesPLUS
2014. Vice-Chancellor’s Engagement Award
This award recognized the Bower Studio’s innovative HomesPLUS projects at the Beyuen and Titjikala (NT) communities. It noted the team’s capacity to positively engage with community groups and industry partners.
Matt Breen, Ilari Lehtonen & Trevor Galgal
2013. Dreamlarge Student Engagement Award
This award enabled students Matthew Breen, llari Lehtonen and Trevor Galgal to return to Papua New Guinea to research and refine the prototype composting toilet design built by the Bower Studio at the Sipaia Community in 2012.
2012. Rio Tinto Excellence and Innovation in Indigenous Higher Education
"David O'Brien is to be congratulated for developing and delivering such a program over many years, and for involving a wide range of community and corporate partners in order to help support it. The Rio Award is a well-deserved accolade for this excellent program."
2012. Australian Government Office for Learning & Teaching Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning
For innovative and collaborative approaches to engaging architecture students with Indigenous communities to realise development projects alongside local partners.
2012. Neville Quarry Architectural Education Prize - Commendation
Jury Chair Brian Zulaikha noted in the commendation citation "The Jury acknowledged Dr O’Brien’s dedication to research and his integration of this into the Bower Studios program. The studios produce a student culture which is deeply interested in the indigenous architecture of many communities. Students have the unique experience of engaging with the community to deliver meaningful outcomes as well as the practical application of going on-site to construct the designs."
2011. Royal Institute of British Architects Dissertation Medal
Hannah Robertson received the prestigious Dissertation Medal for her work Bush Owner Builder, which developed culturally sensitive and appropriate housing for a remote Aboriginal community in Australia. "This thoughtful and thorough piece of work shows how architecture students are providing clever and sensitive solutions that aspire to vastly improve people's quality of life," Institute president Angela Brady said.
2010. BlueScope Steel Glenn Murcutt Student Prize
Fiona was awarded the prize for her work Single Men’s Community at Palmerston Indigenous Village - an examination of suitable self-help housing for itinerant men near Darwin. The awards jury said they “appreciated Fiona’s resolution of simple shelter housing that is sufficiently flexible to accommodate indigenous patterns of living with elements that can be added or subtracted”.
Allison Stout, Charlotte Fliegner & Karina Piper
2008. University of Melbourne Knowledge Transfer Award
After participating in the 2008 Bower Studio, students Allison Stout, Charlotte Fliegner and Karina Piper received funding to continue the project into 2009 and liaise with the Gudorrka community. Their consultation and designs informed the 2009 Bower Studio engagement and led to the renovation of House 8 at Gudorrka.
This morning we finished work on our two models; one for the whole site and one of the shade screens in detail.News
This year Bower studio will be returning to Kalkaringi with a new project and a new team.News
It’s a strange feeling, walking away from something you may never see again. As we sat at the airport reflecting upon the time we had spent in Kalkaringi, emotions were mixed, ultimately unsure of the lasting impact we had made, yet proud of the work we had done.News
Our last day in Kalkaringi was here. We woke up and packed up all our things ready to say our last goodbyes to the community. Some of us went straight to the site where we removed the formwork to unveil BBQ 2. The patterns came out neatly and it signified the end of the construction process.News
Today we woke up with mixed up feelings. It is our last official working day at Kalkaringi, the energy is definitely not the same as Day 1, but there’s eagerness and anxiety to finish up what we had started a week ago. This day became a real challenge to the team: we had to finish the furniture and the shadings for Big Shady 2.News
Warmth radiated from the gorge as it found the morning sun. A wade in the cool waters of the river was needed to wake from a well earned rest.News
Double R, Yamba, and Phil invited us this evening to join them at Neave Gorge, a site 45 minutes out of Kalkaringi, land of which Double R was the Traditional Owner. Having limited opportunities to swim since our arrival in Kalk, the call for floating in a freshwater gorge was the ultimate temptation, meaning an extensive to-do list on site was addressed and we were able to experience such an exceptional evening.News
Waking up to the sun rising at the base of Mount Possum marked the beginning of another productive day in Kalkaringi. Arriving on site we were greeted by three horses walking through town.News
What a day, Big Shady number one is UP! I’m covered in concrete dust and pretty tired, but it is exhilarating to build something. It changes the park, and adds to the shade of the tree. There is a clear connection between the built and the natural.News
Another day began with a lot of expectation. After our efforts of prefabricating the pieces, it was time to begin putting up the first Shady. A truck owned by Gurindji Corporation was used to transport the tall SHS steel columns. With all hands on deck, we began moving the taller columns into the footing holes. The challenge did not end there however, as we had to keep them up while the shorter columns were put in place. Once all columns were in their footing holes, temporary cross bracing was drilled into the columns to ensure their security in place. Following this, more C purlins were used as temporary scaffolding to create a ledge for the form plywood to be attached.News
Today was a really productive day. We planned on finishing early today so that we could make it to the club and meet more people from the community before it closed.News
We wake up aloft a significant hill, which anomalies the flat landscape we surround.2019 Kalkarindji, NT
We spend our first morning gathering supplies from Katherine and stop to watch the ANZAC Day parade through town before our long journey south.2019 Kalkarindji, NT
Darwin was hot and humid, Litchfield was beautiful, but Kalkaringi remains a mystery.2019 Kalkarindji, NT
Busted our guts today trying to finish off with pouring a small slab for the new pavilion! Our combined shovelling effort with the local construction team, Gurindji Corp, got us over the line in the end.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
As the construction processes of both the art centre and the pavilion is approaching an end, the shipping container we used to store tools and materials is steadily becoming empty.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
The day started off slower than usual, with only half the team heading off to the arts centre to continue work. Some stayed back to work on designs for the seating of Big Shady, while others enjoyed a leisurely swim by the water hole.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
This morning we had 3 days left in our programme; David had written a to-do list. Just after sunrise on site we gathered as David, James, Vic and Dan ran through a structured team approach to the build. We then separated into two groups to attack what seemed like a mountain of work; one group on Big Shady, another on the arts centre.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
We had the most beautiful lunch with the Artists and their families today. We learnt about the cooking of Kangaroo tail, helping to wrap in foil and bury in hot coals beneath the fire. Together we enjoyed the little yarns with meal of sandwiches and bits of chopped tail with baked sweet potato. Out of it all it was a chance for our groups to intertwine and learn stories from each other. It’s nice to feel their excitement to share their culture with the younger generations.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
It was supposed to be a little cooler today, but if anything it feels hotter. The heat dictates everything here. The design for the Art Centre addition is heavily perforated to allow for cross ventilation. We start early to avoid the sun at its strongest. Water is constantly being handed about. The roof isn't finished as it would be foolish to spend the afternoon exposed on hot corrugated iron. Heat takes ownership of the day.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
Arriving to site this morning, the town was noticeably quieter. Today was the Anzac Day public holiday, marked by a dawn service on the memorial hill behind the arts centre. It was an interesting sight to see the row of cars on the ridge beside the memorial, lined in a row like ants along the usually unobstructed hills.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
My hands are covered with powdery steel dust smeared with sweat and dirt. But lingering stronger, a fragrant bush medicine plant that Penny from the Art Centre showed us. This is just one of the many opportunities we’ve been lucky enough to learn from the culture of Kalkarindji.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
Up at the crack of dawn to the sound of mooing cows who share our paddock, we were quick to head to site to get started before the heat of the day.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
Today we were introduced to the community, meeting Phil from Gurindjicorp and Penny from the art centre. It was inspiring for us to hear first hand, from the people in the community, that our work here in Kalkarindji is an important piece of a much bigger picture.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
On Thursday, having all arrived in the NT, we met to camp at Edith Falls, 40 minutes out of Katherine and about half way to this year's build at Kalkarindji. We all got up at the crack of dawn, packed, and headed up the hill to the 'upper pool'. The watering hole was stunning, and there was not a croc in sight. Feeling as though we could've easily spent the day or more dipping in and out of the water, we soaked up our 30 minutes of bliss.2018 Kalkarindji, NT
Day 9 was an exciting day on site at the Wadeye Media pavilion. It was a Tuesday, the day after the Queen’s Birthday. Whilst being irrelevant for nearly everybody everywhere (well, the footy was a thrilling see-sawing affair with quite a few magpie totems in the crowd), the Bower team celebrated, as it meant we could finally get our hands on some smooth concrete mixed in the barrel of a truck, rather than a gritty brew inside a rusty old wheelbarrow.2017 Wadeye, NT
Nearing the end of the Bower 17 build phase, the Pavilion was taking shape and almost at a point of completion. The last of the formwork was assembled and positioned ready for the following day’s pour. The A/V equipment was also securely mounted within the Media Box and all cabling was organized to provide a clear area for internal storage.2017 Wadeye, NT
After a night camping among the sand dunes at Wadeye Beach, the moon hung low on the horizon as we drove in to town for another days work. It was straight back into the finalizing of various tasks from the previous afternoon - completing the formwork for more bench seats around the screen, while work continued on the fixing and replacing of the roof purlins in the old pavilion roof structure.2017 Wadeye, NT
The day begun in a flurry of dust and sweat. An early start saw the weary eyed travellers on site at 7:30am but ready to battle.2017 Wadeye, NT
It was a busy day on site; two concrete pours, and the arrival of Stewart and Astrid from ARUP, and Lyndon Ormond-Parker. The pavilion is starting to take shape into the media cultural hub of Wadeye and there is lots of keen community interest.2017 Wadeye, NT
Concrete concrete concrete concrete concrete concrete concrete concrete…. the concrete arrived! Yay!2017 Wadeye, NT
The Wadeye Media Box really started to take shape today with the installation of the frame for the screen, an electricity pole to connect the Box to the streets power line, and the formwork being set out for the seating around the screen. Also the pavilion was neatened up by removing some old insulation that was decaying and hanging down (see picture).2017 Wadeye, NT
The first day began meeting Mark Crocombe at the Kanamkek-Yile Ngala Museum, a history centre containing Wadeye’s story of a shared cultural ethos between Rainbow, a culturally significant figure within the Thamarrurr region, and Father Docherty, a prominent catholic missionary.2017 Wadeye, NT
What is Homes Plus?
Homes Plus is a new way of delivering housing options for Indigenous Communities in Australia. This program considers both the house itself but also the additional items you may wish to add to your house to make it your home. Items such as shading, screening and outdoor shelters for cooking or for your cars will help to make your new home more suitable for the way you live.
Working through this website (or the catalogue) you will see you can select a home and a number of add ons, depending on your needs and budget. The Add Ons will be delivered to site with your home and you will be joined by the Homes Plus team to build them yourself, or with a few friends, depending on how big the project is. For the first few Add Ons, the Homes Plus team will be there to help out but before long you and your friends will have all the skills you need to build the Add Ons yourselves.
How can I get involved?
If you are eligible for a new home, contact your Aboriginal Corporation to see if they are involved in the project. In the mean time, you can view the Homes and Add Ons on the website (or in the catalogue) to see what Home and Add Ons will be best for you.
If you have any questions or need more information, please contact the Homes Plus team by email.
Upcoming Bower Projects 2021
Cummeragunja On-Country Learning Pavilion
The Cummeragunja community lives on the banks of the Murray River in New South Wales close to Barmah township. Formerly known as the Cummeragunja Mission the land is now owned by the Yorta Yorta Land Council. Elders from the Yorta Yorta community have approached Bower Studio to support the development of an on-country learning pavilion to become a focal point for a range of cultural activities. Community members have identified on-country learning as an important way to celebrate their cultural heritage and foster their future identity.
A stockpile of ‘thinnings’ from the local red river gum forests provides timber for posts and beams. At the community’s suggestion a number of poles of appropriate length and diameter have been selected from the main stockpile. A number of consultation meetings, sketch models and drawings, have led the Bower team towards the current design – a forest of nine timber columns supporting a perforated steel roof filtering dappled light. The columns and beams are connected by custom steel brackets and supported on textured concrete footings and seating inside the pavilion.
During one of the consultation visits three timber poles were installed as part of an impromptu landscaping exercise outside the local health clinic. Using local timber, the Bower team tested a series of connection details at 1:1 scale to help facilitate community discussions. These prototypes have since been modified with the support of Arup engineers.
This program begins at the Parkville campus before relocating to the Cummeragunja community with an intensive phase from between four to fourteen days. Students will be instructed to use power tools to contribute to the building process. Student assessment will include drawings, booklets and multi-media presentations.
Masters level students at the Melbourne School of Design are eligible to join the program via two subjects;
- APBL90356 Bower Studio (25 credit points) to be run in semester 2 2021,
- ABPL90286 Construction Methods A (12.5 credit points) for students in the 300 point architecture program.
David O’Brien, Zoe Diacolabrianos, James Neil, Nicky Henderson.
Email David O’Brien at email@example.com for further information.
Student mentor 2020/21
Gurindji Community Hub
- Gurindji Community Hub, Kalkaringi, Northern Territory
- 12.5 point mid-year elective
- Open to MSD students (limited places available)
- Predeparture classes will begin in May with a two-week site visit to Kalkaringi in June/July
- Applications are now open
Bower Studio has a long-established relationship with the Gurindji people on their homelands in remote Northern Territory. Previous Bower projects with the Gurindji include the award winning ‘Wave Hill Walk-Off Pavilions’, in 2016 and the ‘Karungkarni Arts Centre Extensions’ in 2018. Additional projects completed by Bower at Kalkaringi include leisure and sports facilities. See, www.bowerstudio.com.au.
All projects are completed after extensive consultations with the community and include local labour and support.
This time we will be focused on the exterior space around the community hub designing and installing gathering spaces, shade structures, landscaping and general placemaking. This will first involve prefabrication of steel components in Melbourne and assembling a ‘kit of parts’ that will be sent to Kalkaringi before our twelve days work within the community.
Conversations with the community during the build phase will inform your final project which can include design and video submissions.
Pre-departure classes will run in May with cultural competency training and research seminars before working at Kalkaringi. A pre-departure building exercise is held to help you familiarise yourselves with the building processes and tools. The studio is intellectually and physically demanding – please review the website carefully! Allow approximately $1,800 for airfares, 4WD hire etc.
Applications for Bower 20 are now open and due by 2pm Friday 2 April. You should first attend an information session to understand the scope of the project. Register your interest with Dr David O’Brien to receive an invitation to attend one of our information sessions in March.
Please email your application to the selection committee and tell us why you are excited about the Bower 21 project at Kalkaringi (300 words or less). Please add your telephone number in case we have any questions.
Successful applicants will be notified by email in mid-April 2021.
Please be aware that this project involves some long-distance travelling, hard work and some very basic accommodation and food. Check the student blog on the Bower Studio website to get some idea of the students’ experiences.
Contact Dr David O’Brien