SELF-HELP HOUSING

INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIA

COMMUNITY BASED BUILDING PROCESS

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Project Summary

In his final years of study at the University of Melbourne (1980-1981), Paul was introduced to the notion of architecture not only as a noun (a physical thing, a product) but also as a verb (a doing thing, a process). Architecture can build community as it makes place. That then shifts the gaze of an architect away from project delivery at a professional distance and towards immersion in spatial creativity that’s accessible to all as an essential cultural act.

 

Inspired by this perspective, Paul spent most of the first 10 years of his career (1983-1993) living and working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in rural and remote parts of Australia. These communities had very little opportunity to provide for their own shelter needs. Government agencies delivered housing which by design was unsuited to the local climate and traditional lifestyle, and which adopted expensive and specialised construction methods that discouraged local labour input. 

 

Communities invited Paul to guide them:

  • Through design of their own homes in ways that were meaningful to them, via hands-on non-precious modelmaking workshops and much discussion.

  • In building their own homes using materials that were freely available in the local bush, including stone, earth and crushed anthill, bamboo as well as raw pole and chainsaw milled timbers.

  • In adopting simple construction methods that were suited to the community workforce, being men, women and children, all with different levels of health, strength and skill.

 

A self-help housing culture was re-established through Paul’s initiative and facilitation at Mount Catt in south-central Arnhem Land, on Moa Island in the Torres Straits and on Palm Island in North Queensland. It showed good results on the ground and became popular as a pathway to skill development and home ownership. It also provided a creative pursuit to socialise around and it built a collective pride.

 

These projects have been published by the Aboriginal Studies Press in Read, Settlement (2000), by the RAIA in Memmott, Take 2 (2003) and in various professional journals. They remain of considerable interest to students and academics of architecture across Australia as case studies of sustainability in community based housing process.

Rosemarie Rusch and Rick Best,
Sustainability:  Its Adaption and Relevance In Remote Area Housing

Bond University, Australia. 2014

Technical Guide

Paul Haar,
Housing in the Torres Strait Region: 

Towards a Self-Help Approach

 

Report to Joint Ministerial Advisory Committee

for the Aboriginal and Islander Rental Housing Programme.

 

On request from the Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs. 1992

Other Publications

Paul Haar,
Self-Help Approach to Remote Area Housing 

St Paul's Village, Moa Island, Far North QLD

 

Chapter for Peter Read (ed),

Settlement:  

A History of Australian Indigenous Housing 

Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra 2000

Paul Haar,
Community Building and Housing Process

Context for Self-Help Housing

 

Chapter for Paul Memmott (ed),

Take 2:  

Housing Design in Indigenous Australia

Royal Australian Institute of Architects, 2003

VIDEOS

In June 1984, the Aboriginal Video Magazine visited Mount Catt Homeland Centre in south-central Arnhem Land Northern Territory. The community there designed and built homes using materials from the local bush.

1989 video footage of self-help housing at St. Paul's Village on Moa Island in the Torres Strait Region of Far-North Queensland. Families there were designing and building their own homes with local bush materials.