The architecture firm, Turner, has been selected to revitalise ‘The Block’ for the Pemulwuy precinct in Redfern by designing new student accommodations.

What was originally a redevelopment into an open residential precinct anticipated to retain and celebrate Aboriginal culture, has now been met with controversial divisiveness, in a swift change of plans.

The plot of land, owned by the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) since the seventies, was originally supposed to predominantly focus its support on the inherent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander presence in Redfern. 

However, in March of this year, the revised plans approved by the NSW Independent Planning Commission was for a 24-storey student accommodation tower to now accommodate 600 students.

In 2012, the plans featured a six-storey building that would simultaneously house approximately 150 students, as the site is a mere 20m from Redfern Station, and within walking distance to the University of Sydney, UTS, TAFE NSW and Notre Dame Sydney.

The AHC is delivering affordable housing for 62 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, a gymnasium, commercial and retail spaces, a gallery and a childcare centre in the precinct.

However some opponents have raised fears that the affordable dwellings would never be built, and the state planning department confirmed there was zero guarantee.

The commission went back to the drawing board and amended the development conditions to ensure the delivery of those dwellings, then gave the project the green light.

Delivering 519 rooms in total, 110 subsidised beds of those will be made available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, with those beds being returned to the rental market if unoccupied.

Director at Turner, Dan Szwaj says, “The design strategy embraces the Aboriginal Housing Company’s emphasis on culture and community and the significance of the site through the build form narrative, an inclusive family model for students and the integration of key public domain spaces and indigenous public art”.

Others, like outspoken indiegnous activist Jenny Munro, claim that they’ve effectively erased the indigenous community footprint on The Block.

Although Turner has integrated the public artwork ‘family of turtles’ selected by AHC to represent their culture of support and nurturing within the community.

The student accommodation building is to be named in honour of Col James who was an architect and Sydney University lecturer, also associated with AHC and was dedicated to creating and improving Aboriginal housing and was instrumental in the masterplan design for The Block.