2008 – Gudorrka,
Northern Territory

Relationship Building

  • Location: Gudorrka, Darwin NT

The Bower Studio was formed in 2008 under the guidance of studio leader Dr David O’Brien linking his research and teaching interests developing sustainable housing typologies for marginalised communities. The first group of students were challenged to design and construct a robust pavilion structure – frequently called a bower (or bough shed) by Indigenous Australians or a sala by Thai communities. A full-scale prototype was built on the University grounds and was altered on a weekly basis to test new design and construction ideas. Once the initial structure was prefabricated and erected the students worked in groups to investigate different ways of cladding the structure, experimenting with the mediation between internal and external space, varying degrees of enclosure and transparency, constructability, sustainability, the effects of using different materials and of course the primary cultural meanings of shelter.

Having tested the ways cladding a simple structure could create such a vast array of outcomes, the students considered their findings in the context of designing accommodation for Indigenous Australian communities, a nuanced and challenging undertaking that is often consigned to the ‘too hard’ basket or simply left unacknowledged. Through a series of seminars and research presentations the students started to grapple with issues associated with ‘provided housing’ and how some of the difficulties that arise through poor or inappropriate design could start to be addressed by the interventions they had developed during their earlier testing. Through this hands-on and reflective process the students began to bring together both the practical and theoretical aspects of their learning in a sophisticated and relevant way.

Following this research and experimentation phase, the students travelled to Gudorrka, an Indigenous ‘Town Camp’ community 22km inland from Darwin, in the Northern Territory. At Gudorrka, students were able to see first-hand and discuss with community members the deficiencies of current housing stock and what it was about their current living conditions that they would most like to see addressed. This consultation stage led to consideration of how a series of simple Bower type structures could be configured and detailed to provide for the needs of the community. Issues such as privacy, visibility, relationships between interior and exterior space and ways of living were discussed and interrogated with the community. Ultimately, it was identified that there existed a need for a particular type of housing accommodation for single men which informed the design brief.

On returning to Melbourne, each student drew on the multiple streams of research they had engaged with; practical, theoretical and consultative, and developed a design proposal for Single Men’s Accommodation at Gudorrka. Elders from the Gudorrka Community (Phillip Goodman) and the neighbouring Knuckeys Lagoon Community (Ronnie Agnew) were invited to the University to attend a session where each student presented their proposal and were given further feedback from the elders. The work of this studio was passed on to the following years cohort of Bower Studio students working in the Northern Territory to form the basis for the ongoing nature of the Bower Studio.

Bower Studio thanks the people of Gudorrka for welcoming the team into their community.

Funding Agencies

  • Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
  • Territory Housing
  • Melbourne University Student Knowledge Transfer Award

Project Partners

  • Indigenous Community Volunteers
  • Aboriginal Development Foundation
  • Department of Families
  • Housing
  • Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
  • Yilli Rreung Housing Aboriginal Corporation

Industry Partners

  • LiteSteel Technologies
  • Surdex Steel

Community Leaders

  • Phillip Goodman

Studio Leaders

  • Dr David O’Brien
  • Hamish Hill


  • Jacqui Bell
  • Rob Chittleborough
  • Amy Clark
  • Alice Dyer
  • Fred Fang
  • Charlotte Fliegner
  • Yi Sky Ha
  • Tina Huynh
  • Valerie Leong
  • Fiona Lew
  • Michael McManus
  • Sian Murray
  • Karina Piper
  • Allison Stout
  • Chris Stribley
  • Jia Wang