The Melbourne School of Design is currently hosting a unique exhibition that back-catalogues the Bower Studio’s collaborative work with Indigenous and marginalised communities in several countries.

For more than a decade, the Bower Studio has linked communities across Australia, Papua New Guinea and Thailand with postgraduate architecture students and staff to co-develop and construct much-needed community buildings.

The Bower Studio Retrospective: 2008-2019 captures several examples of construction collaborations with various communities, from the media box that brought the web to Knuckey’s Lagoon in the Northern Territory, to composting toilets that have promoted better hygiene in Sipaia, Papua New Guinea. A full-scale version of one of these timber-framed and clad composting toilets built by students is a major highlight of the exhibition.

“Appropriate design is not readily accessible to many people. It’s important that they have access to well-considered design outcomes to suit their cultural needs,” explains the Bower Studio creator and program coordinator, Dr David O’Brien.

The Bower Studio works with communities only when invited by local leaders, and when the community contributes a local workforce. The studio also returns to these communities and builds on previous projects to grow strong relationships and work towards future improvements.

According to O’Brien, students are encouraged to be involved in creating positive impacts for remote communities beyond physical infrastructure. By celebrating the local culture, the students understand the community-building function of architecture.

“It’s very rewarding to work together to get something built that has tangible value – it’s great for the students to see that what they’re studying can have significant positive social impact.”

The exhibition features multimedia and photographic documentation of previous Bower Studio projects.

The retrospective, which opened on 2 September, will continue until 27 September 2019.

Location: Dulux Gallery, Ground level, Glyn Davis Building (Melbourne School of Design) The University of Melbourne, Parkville, 3010.