The home of architecture and design in Asia-Pacific

Get the latest design news direct to your inbox!

Ngurra: The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct Competition

Set in Canberra and led by Hassell, Edition Office, COLA Studio and Djinjama, the winning design concept is the National Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Centre.

Ngurra: The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct Competition

Concept image of the National Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Centre, Canberra, courtesy of WAX.

A collaborative team comprising Djinjama and COLA Studio, Hassell and Edition Office has won a design competition for Ngurra: The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct in Canberra.

The design for the Ngurra Cultural Precinct is specific to Country that is home to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, who have lived for thousands of years amid a landscape of limestone plains, mountains, swamps and streams. Ngurra appears in many different Aboriginal languages around eastern parts of Australia and is a word for ‘home,’ ‘camp,’ ‘a place of belonging,’ or ‘a place of inclusion.’

The design concept for Ngurra is set within an undulating landscape to capture the drama, beauty and spontaneity of the beautiful wild grassland landscapes of Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country. The organisation, flow and movement of people throughout the design has been drawn from observation and meditation on the movement of animals through the landscape, a movement that has occurred for millennia.

The jury commented that the winning design was “bold, yet elegant in integrating with the landscape,” adding that “the commitment to rehabilitation of the site [is] a statement about the environment and First Nations connection to Country.”

Concept image aerial view of the new cultural precinct, image coutesy of Hassell.

Welcoming all visitors, the winning design concept for the National Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Centre incorporates a large, organic and embracing canopy, gently held aloft over a central plaza, framing and bowing towards Bulajima, Mount Ainslie, marking the presence and arrival to the precinct.

The outstretched form of the central canopy is designed to lend presence and grace to the site, declaring a clear and proud identity while providing an invitation and shelter to all. The canopy is gently held aloft with an array of timber columns, representing the many hands of a community working together to keep each other safe and strong.

Held between the sky and the earth, the central plaza creates a new cultural and community room for Canberra, a place of welcome for ceremony, community events and functions.

Related: The winning concept for AKIN at Barangaroo

Concept image of The National Resting Place (foreground building) and The National Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Centre (building in the distance), image courtesy of WAX.

The National Resting Place is designed as a private ceremonial building, an indentation into the rolling ground that forms a soft counterweight to the floating form of the Cultural Centre’s canopy. The respectful eastern entry plaza makes it publicly recognisable and a powerful symbolic reminder of historical truths, yet ensures a private, introspective discrete space for cultural sensitivities and moments of reflection.

Formally, The National Resting Place design concept is composed of two structures. The curved embrace of the outer welcoming building, assembled under the gentle blanket of rolling grasslands, and the tall, stand-alone structure of the Resting Place sheltered within. The Repatriation Space, meanwhile, lies in the centre of this form, in direct relationship with a secluded and sacred inner courtyard, allowing a highly protected place for ceremony, for song, sorrow and love.

Concept image of Cultural Centre public space arrival area, image courtesy of WAX.

“At the beginning of this project we asked that our Ancestors guide our hands and minds in the design and we believe they have done so,” says Dr Danièle Hromek, Director of Djinjama, a First Nations cultural research and design agency says. “We know that Country has led our design team, and we believe this is the legacy of our project; Country, kin, and community embedded, guiding, fore-fronting First Nations culture.

“Rarely does there come a chance to make a genuine difference for First Nations Peoples across the whole continent. Ngurra, The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct is one of those chances. Clearly it must be done right, which means First Nations voices must be at the heart of the project, guiding, deciding, designing, and living culture through the process.

“I am proud to have contributed my voice and guidance as part of the successful design team for this incredibly significant place.”

Concept image of The National Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Centre, image courtesy of WAX.

Mark Loughnan, Head of Design and Project Director at international design firm Hassell comments: “Djinjama guided us in an Indigenous-led design process that allowed us to sense Country which means that deep time and memory has been captured into the design. The result is a distinctive design concept which creates a globally recognisable home for the National Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Centre and The National Resting Place. It’s a design where Country, kin, and community are embedded. Landscape and built form merge together with equal value to provide living infrastructure for future generations to learn and reflect on their shared history.

Directors of Edition Office, Kim Bridgland and Aaron Roberts, add that “it was an incredible honour to work with our team on this important and symbolic national project, together crafting a place where Indigenous Knowledge can be held and shared into the future, a place where Indigenous culture and identity can be seen, felt and witnessed at the heart of our capital city.

“The proposal for Ngurra provides a profound legacy of engagement with truth and with Culture, and through this an engagement with the inequalities and injustices that remain. By elevating Country first, the proposal embeds true connection and custodianship, allowing the site to come to life, providing cultural and physical shelter for all who visit.

“A deep vulnerability was required to participate in this scheme, beginning with learning and listening. It has been an immense privilege to have had the opportunity to work with Djinjama and Hassell to contribute to this truly important cultural precinct.”



Edition Office

COLA Studio

Site plan, image courtesy of Hassell.
Concept image, lake view, image courtesy of WAX.
Concept image of The National Resting Place, private area, image courtesy of Edition Office.
Concept image of The National Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Centre, internal view, image courtesy of Edition Office.

Social value in the built environment with Hassell

INDESIGN is on instagram

Follow @indesignlive

The Indesign Collection

A searchable and comprehensive guide for specifying leading products and their suppliers

Indesign Our Partners

Keep up to date with the latest and greatest from our industry BFF's!

Related Stories

While you were sleeping

The internet never sleeps! Here's the stuff you might have missed