Aboriginal Health College, Little Bay

2012
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Aboriginal Health College, Little Bay

Built between 2006 and 2009, the Aboriginal Health College is an innovative building responding to the requirements of its clients in a culturally and environmentally sensitive manner. Designed for the Aboriginal Health Medical Research Council, the college is an education facility for Indigenous Australians who wish to practice or continue their education in the health sector. As stated on the Aboriginal Health College website, one of the main objectives of the college is to respond to Indigenous Australian 'community needs and expectations' in terms of health care. [1] By providing a building for Aboriginal people that allows them to feel comfortable in an academic environment, a sense of empowerment through education has been realised. Many subtle techniques have been employed by the architects to ensure that the building is an expression of Aboriginal culture. [2] Furthermore, the architecture is designed as a mechanism to enhance the knowledge of its students in health education as well as by traditional practices tied to the natural environment.

An expression of culture

Closely collaborating with the client on the design, the Government Architect's Office (including Aboriginal architect Dillon Kombumerri) has provided a successful learning centre, which also articulates ideas related to Indigenous Australian culture. The architects described how the idea relating to movement on a site is expressed through the architecture, stating that

the main entry is not directly off the street typical of Western Architecture. Instead and keeping with the client's wish to express Indigenous ideas of movement, the entrance is approached via a landscaped courtyard. [3]

Furthermore, the idea of a central space for the students and community to meet before dispersing to various rooms throughout the building was carefully considered. The 'main foyer area … located in the centre' of the ground floor does exactly this. [4] Gathering the people in a communal space as they enter the building gives an immediate relation to the idea of community. This idea is highly important in Aboriginal culture and relevant to place, as there is a strong Indigenous Australian presence in the surrounding suburb of La Perouse.

Designing for education

Health education for Aboriginal students is the primary function of the building. However the design of the college incorporates other aspects of education into the architecture. Native plants are abundant in the surrounding landscaping, providing 'an educational environment for learning about "bush tucker"', which is an integral part of traditional Aboriginal culture.[5]

The boundary between building and the natural environment is also blurred to enrich and educate those who use the building about the importance of connecting with nature. The presence of an 'artificial "dune"…connecting the courtyard to the first floor terrace,' as well as natural ventilation and cleverly placed glazing ensures the building has a strong relationship to the landscape which can be seen and felt by its inhabitants.[6]

Notes

[1] 'About Us: Objectives', Aboriginal Health College website, http://www.ahc.edu.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6&Itemid=108, viewed 10 March 2012

[2] 'Venue and Location', Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW website, http://www.ahmrc.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12&Itemid=11, viewed 10 March 2012

[3] 'Aboriginal Health College, Government Architect's Office website, http://www.govarch.commerce.nsw.gov.au/projects.asp?PT=1&SI=1&PD=1&CP=19, viewed 10 March 2012

[4] 'Aboriginal Health College, Government Architect's Office website, http://www.govarch.commerce.nsw.gov.au/projects.asp?PT=1&SI=1&PD=1&CP=19, viewed 10 March 2012

[5] 'Aboriginal Health College, Government Architect's Office website, http://www.govarch.commerce.nsw.gov.au/projects.asp?PT=1&SI=1&PD=1&CP=19, viewed 10 March 2012

[6] 'Aboriginal Health College, Government Architect's Office website, HYPERLINK "http://www.govarch.commerce.nsw.gov.au/projects.asp?PT=1&SI=1&PD=1&CP=19" http://www.govarch.commerce.nsw.gov.au/projects.asp?PT=1&SI=1&PD=1&CP=19, viewed 10 March 2012

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