Calling For True Cultural Engagement In Australia’s Built Environment
Alex Longley founded Arcadia in 2011 to establish a landscape firm that is driven to create world-class landscape outcomes. His passion for connecting people with the landscape, and his longstanding industry relationships built on his ability to deliver exceptional projects, have helped Arcadia become one of the leading landscape architecture firms in Sydney. Also, key to Arcadia’s success is the way Alex’s belief in nurturing team development has built a talented team within a collaborative workplace environment. Alex is my special guest after 8am this morning on Big Brekkie KoolnDeadly.
This year, the theme for NAIDOC Week is Heal Country. At Arcadia Landscape Architecture They have been collaborated with two deadly First Nations women working in the built environment to develop the "Shaping Country: Cultural Engagement in Australia's Built Environment" report. Alex Longley, Founding Principal says, “Indigenous connection to the land has been integrated in many ways, including Indigenous artwork and a planting strategy with the underlying theme that landscapes heal."
Arcadia is a leading landscape architecture and urban design practice working at the intersection of the built form and nature on Australia’s Eastern seaboard. Our focus is to enrich community and Country, shaping meaningful places for all Australians in regional and urban settings. We take a considered approach to place through collaboration with end users, stakeholders and First Nations communities. By placing high importance on the way people interact with the environment, we continuously pursue rigorous, enduring outcomes that use landscape as a powerful tool for connection.
Our approach to Indigenous Country, heritage and culture goes beyond project based work. It is about learning, establishing and maintaining community partnerships, supporting Indigenous advancement in design, and building our team’s capacity. From establishing Australia’s first Indigenous Landscape Architecture Scholarship, to our partnerships with Indigenous initiatives and in-house staff cultural training and our ongoing employment and mentoring of Indigenous professionals, Arcadia prides ourselves on being at the forefront of our industry in engagement, advancement and collaboration with our First People “The field of landscape architecture is something of a front-runner in terms of pre-reconciliatory progress, as there is synergy between our design philosophies and the way First Peoples think about and respond to the land. In our sector, there is no hiding behind walls in terms of our connection to Country when each and every element of our designs interacts with a site that was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.” - Alex Longley, Director at Arcadia Representation of First Nations people in the built environment is incredibly low. In fact, there are fewer than 30 First Nations professionals practicing in the whole of Australia.
There are initiatives working to rectify this balance, such as Arcadia’s Indigenous Scholarship for Landscape Architecture and the Droga Indigenous Architecture Scholarship at UTS, but more needs to be done across the entire industry to shift the scales. “I cannot speak for all Indigenous people,” said Arcadia’s Indigenous Strategist Kaylie Salvatori – one of the few First Nations women practicing Landscape Architecture in NSW.
“There is a lot of pressure on me to have all the answers or know all the intricacies of my culture. But even I am still learning. We need more First Nations people on design teams not only so that they can represent the interests of more Indigenous groups, but also so they can forge trusted relationships with local communities.” “Time is everyone’s main issue,” says Dr Hromek. “When an industry decides that 3% of the population now needs to be engaged and included in their work after 300 years of being ignored, you can expect to encounter high demand for very few Knowledge Holders.” We need to balance demand for expertise with respect for First People’s energy, availability and quality of life, as well as payment for any and all contributions of intellectual property and time.
Knowledge-sharing practices in First Nations communities aren’t limited to the formalised Powerpoint presentation of Western norms. And when it comes to IP as valuable as that of First Peoples, it’s even more imperative to ensure that it’s being protected and used in the way its Knowledge Holders would like.
In her work on engaging with Country, Dr Hromek makes use of what she calls a ‘visual verbal essay’ to communicate Indigenous IP verbally with a project’s stakeholders – not only to ensure that stories are protected, but to communicate the importance of unlearning Western knowledge-sharing practices as the ‘only’ way.
Dr Danièle Hromek is a Budawang woman of the Yuin nation. She works as a spatial designer, cultural designer and researcher considering how to Indigenise the built environment. Her work contributes an understanding of the Indigenous experience and comprehension of space, investigating how Aboriginal people occupy, use, narrate, sense, dream and contest their spaces.
Danièle’s research rethinks the values that inform Aboriginal understandings of space through Indigenous spatial knowledge and cultural practice, in doing so considers the sustainability of Indigenous cultures from a spatial design perspective. Danièle is director of Djinjama, whose clients include state and local government, museums and galleries, as well as industry including architects, planners, designers, heritage and engineering firms.