COMMUNITY BASED BUILDING PROCESS
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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this gallery contains images of friends, some of whom have died.
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.
In the dry season of 2023, together with staff from Aboriginal Housing Northern Territory (AHNT), Paul visited remote homeland centres in the Bulman (south central) and Laynhapuy (east coast) regions of Arnhem Land in Australia’s Top End. The purpose of these visits was to explore with communities whether a case for revival of a self-build culture has support and good prospect going forward. If so, how might its 1980s iterations be refined and expanded, both as process and product, for healthy housing and healthy communities through the 2020s and beyond?
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
Self-Help Approach to Remote Area Housing
St Paul's Village, Moa Island, Far North QLD
Chapter for Peter Read (ed),
A History of Australian Indigenous Housing
Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra 2000
Community Building and Housing Process
Context for Self-Help Housing
Chapter for Paul Memmott (ed),
Housing Design in Indigenous Australia
Royal Australian Institute of Architects, 2003
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.
Please be advised that these videos contain voices and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have died.