Building on Country – Nguluway DesignInc

Words by Sarah Sivaraman
Architecture by Nguluway DesignInc

The Wiradjuri word ‘Nguluway’ means ‘come together’; the exact sentiment of Wiradjuri Architect Craig Kerslake, and DesignInc, as they joined forces in 2020 to form Nguluway DesignInc. The partnership brings Aboriginal leadership and cultural knowledge to the well-established DesignInc, with all its resources and architectural expertise.

Nguluway DesignInc is majority Indigenous-owned, and operates on Gadigal Land, of the Eora Nation. It offers architecture, interior design, landscape and urban design services, as well as mentoring, scholarships and employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders within the industry.At the core of Nguluway DesignInc’s work is the concept of Designing from Country. This notion privileges a connection to country within the design process. It incorporates cultural knowledge and traditions within any given site and takes cues from Aboriginal culture regarding the social and environmental aspects of architectural design. The outcome of this is a sense that the built form truly belongs within and to its environment, to Country.

Craig realised that there was a need for architecture to respond to this social way of being.

The Mutitjulu Aboriginal Housing + Professional Hub, one of Nguluway DesignInc’s current projects, exemplifies the concept of Designing from Country. The project is informed by, and responds to, people and place, designed with the Anangu people of Central Australia in mind.
Unlike the current housing options within the community, the project proposes a dwelling comprised of flexible spaces where cultural protocols can be followed, and practices can be passed on to younger generations. An example of this is the women’s business veranda, where weaving and art can be taught, and other business carried out which men are not privy to. The connection to Country is consolidated with views to Uluru and the use of local building materials such as sand.

Another current project, Aunty’s House, was first conceived whilst Craig was visiting an Aunty. She was intentionally positioned on her veranda to better engage with the ‘river of people going by’. Witnessing these interactions, Craig realised that there was a need for architecture to respond to this social way of being. Aunty’s House is a medium density residential building that rethinks the typical apartment layout, enabling greater connection and care between residents. This is done through a layering of spatial zones from public to private. Verandas with retractable louvre screens provide semi-public spaces off the public passage balcony where households can mingle incidentally. One step back from this is the living space, easily accessible for socialising, whilst the bedrooms are positioned at the back of the plan for privacy. Riffing on the quintessential concept of the corner store, the ground floor podium of Aunty’s House is host to a range of shops and services in support of residents’ health and well-being.

As well as their dynamic portfolio of projects, Nguluway DesignInc are currently shortlisted, as part of the Blak Hand Collective, for the Ngurra Aboriginal Cultural Precinct in Canberra.  Moving from strength to strength, the firm is firmly grounded in its mission. Applying an Aboriginal perspective to the built environment -one where respect and shared responsibility for the well-being of others and the environment is paramount- presents a unique opportunity to reflect on what is most important to us as denizens, clients, designers, as a community and a nation. It is a refreshingly focused brief.