Contemporary artist Yhonnie Scarce and Melbourne design studio Edition Office have been named the winners of the 2019 National Gallery of Victoria Architecture Commission for an installation inspired by Indigenous architecture.

In Absence, the winning installation was chosen from 100 schemes entered from across Australia for this year’s competition. The winners were announced following the one-night-only exhibition on 21 March, held as part of Melbourne Design Week at RMIT Design Hub.

The NGV Architecture Commission is an annual competition, which invites architects to create a site-specific work of temporary architecture, activating the NGV’s Grollo Equiset Garden. For 2019, architects were encouraged to submit ideas focusing on multidisciplinary thinking, collaboration and audience engagement.

The winning installation, In Absence invites audiences to better understand the long histories of Indigenous construction, design, industry and agriculture prior to the arrival of Europeans. The timber tower’s dark and enigmatic exterior form conceals a textural and uplifting interior, composed of two dramatic internal voids adorned with thousands of black glass Yams by Yhonnie Scarce.

Scarce, who belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples of South Australia and holds a Master of Fine Arts from Monash University, says: “This pavilion does not recognise the term ‘Terra Nulius’ – instead it celebrates the structures that were built long before the colonisation of Australia. There were many Aboriginal builders of ‘houses’, aquaculture infrastructure and long-term agriculture that has existed for thousands of years. This commission is an amazing opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the builders of such infrastructure and their enduring legacies.”

The jury comprised of Jill Garner (Chair, Principal of Garner Davis Architects and Victorian Government Architect), Corbett Lyon (co-founder of Lyons Architecture and Visiting Professor at MDS, NGV Trustee), Andrew Clark (Deputy Director, National Gallery of Victoria), Clare Cousins (Principal of Clare Cousins Architects, and national president, AIA) and Timothy Moore (Director, Sibling Architecture).