Bilya Marlee (River of the Swan) located upon Whadjuk Nyoongar country on the University of Western Australia’s Crawley campus, provides learning spaces for a number of degrees, as well as a place of support for Indigenous students to assist their time on campus. The building itself, designed by Kerry Hill Architects, is the result of a rigorous consultation process that has ensured it reflects the Nyoongar people’s ideals.
Bilya Marlee plays host to the tertiary institution’s School of Indigenous Studies, Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health, and Poche Centre for Indigenous Health. Deriving its name due to its position on the Derbal Yerrigan (Swan River), the site features a ‘learning lawn’, a grove of mature Marri trees and a ceremonial space that celebrates the six seasons of the Nyoongar calendar.
Noongar Elder Richard Walley was heavily involved within the design process, acting as Cultural Consultant. The celebrated performer oversaw much of the consultation processes and was instrumental in the building becoming a reality and the implementation of cultural narratives.
The building’s materiality features a palette of masonry and terracotta, with its earthy colour scheme a nod towards Nyoongar artist Shane Pickett. The concept of a swan’s nest — a place of fertility and nurturing — informed much of the material palette, with terracotta rods referencing river reeds, and nuances of greens and blues acknowledging the Derbal Yerrigan. Marri timber was utilised internally to create a further sense of connection with the grove of Marri trees.
Moving inside, the building houses the public and student spaces on the lower levels, with administrative spaces and academic functions located above. The learning spaces, inspired by modern learning methods, are open and flexible, featuring a number of technologies that support eclectic teaching styles. The lobby connects to the communal and circulation areas of the building, while also providing a direct line of sight to the surrounding landscape. It also features an artwork by Nyoongar artist Sharyn Egan, titled Danjoo Kaartdijin, that depicts the protective embrace of a Black Swan watching over the nest.
The interior features a warm palette that is of robust proportions. Concrete lines the walls and floors, while smoked eucalyptus and marri makes up much of the joinery. Having to unfortunately cut down a small portion of the marri trees, Kerry Hill Architects has ensured the timber has been utilised to great effect, with the boardroom table made entirely out of marri timber.
One of the final projects Kerry Hill himself was involved with before his passing in 2018, the building juxtaposes the brutalistic stylings of the university’s Law School building, as well as the immensely digital Ezone UWA that was designed by Hassell that also sits on the campus. Delivered on time and on budget, the building was designed against Green Star assessment criteria in order to achieve a four-star rating.