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Home away from Home: Architecture for healthy Aboriginal communities. Tutor: Brendan Jones

The average life expectancy for the Aboriginal male is 59 years compared to 77 for a white Australian male. The work presented here is a tiny yet important piece of work that may help ‘close the gap’ in the health status of Aboriginal people. The studio is a live project that remains alive. The studio required 10 students to work collaboratively, well beyond the standard academic requirements, and produce a design for the Ampilatwatja Medical Centre in the Northern Territory. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) helped develop and run the studio, in particular Ian Watts whose tireless work and generosity made the studio possible. We are also very grateful to the community members of Ampilatwatja, who welcomed us and also to the health services staff for their generosity with their time and ideas. Students’ Statement: The studio Home Away From Home was a type of studio that is rare at RMIT. The obvious reasons being for its attempt at tackling the issue of Aboriginality in any form, taking students out of their comfort zone, bringing them to a very small community of 400 Aboriginals 400 kms from the nearest thing called a town. Rarer still was the idea of having ten students design and develop a single project together. Any one of these elements would set Home Away From Home apart, but what can’t be as easily shown on a plan, in a diagram, or through a render was that the members of the studio really cared about what they designed. In short; what was so rare about this studio was the sense of responsibility the students manifested, responsibility to the work, to the users, and to themselves. This studio would not have been possible without the dedicated work from the following ten students; Amy Melrose, Emily Wallace, Gaudi Olaga, Trecia Lim, Girish Sagram,, Lisa Seibert, Matt Dravich, Raphael Fantl, Will Loft and Chung Ho.

We would also like to thank Paul Quinlivan and Alan Brown, who were instrumental in the studio’s development and success.


Heading North...Field trip to the remote Aboriginal community of Ampilatwatja, NT

Ampilatwatja is a progressive community that includes 3 outstations up to 50 km away. The people of Ampilatwatja form part of the Alywarr tribe who own the land that was given back to them in the 1970’s. Ampilatwatja is a dry community with a community store, civic office, school, and a medical centre.

The medical centre forms an important part of the community and is visited on a regular basis by visiting nutritional and paediatric specialists.The community is very well known for the art produced by some women of the community. The medical centre owns 40 of these paintings and intends to incorporate them within the new building.


air in country / town

air out

men women


men summer


men winter women summer women winter elders summer elders winter

secure area emergency exits

inside / enclosed outside / shade country / town

men summer men winter women summer women winter elders summer elders winter

secure area emergency exits men women





Site Plan Scale 1_1500

country / town

gallery space

men summer

country / town

men winter air in women summer air out women winter elders summer elders winter

men summer men winter women summer


women winter elders summer elders winter

wings secure area blades emergency exits

Ampilatwatja. Medical Centre. Proposed group scheme

The group was projected into a seemingly infinite landscape and then placed in an intense and fragile community. They were then asked to learn and respect unfamiliar and unique cultural practices and ideas. Big issues such as avoidance, security, privacy, sustainability, responsibility and negotiation became paramount.

The group was charged with a sense of the real – the challenge of having to balance between the needs of the community, the medical staff and their tutors –the students responded with a respectful, believable, working piece of architecture.


It became apparent that the medical centre design has a pervasive impact on the capacity of the health service to meet the needs of the community, especially the men. In turn, it would be difficult to see how, without improvement, it would be possible to ‘close the gap’ of Aboriginal

people who are cared for by the service. In part, this is because men find it shameful to attend the clinic and are thus dissuaded from doing so in many circumstances.


Ampilatwatja. Medical Centre. Proposed group scheme

It is now clear that there is a general need for the refurbishment of Aboriginal health service premises, ranging from minor to major repairs. The work at Ampilatwatja, supports this view. Thus, the architectural design of the

services is of vital interest in the strategy to achieve at least health equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.



Selection of developmental exercises and proposals


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