National architecture firm, Wilson Architects, has been chosen to design a new $10-million accommodation wing for the University of Western Australia’s (UWA) St. Catherine’s College.

The new wing will provide accommodation for an additional 54 students as part of the college’s Indigenous Access Program. Currently, the program has the capacity to house 400 residents.

Wilson Architects’ draft renders for the project reveal a sensitive and functional design that references Indigenous ideas of country and landscape. Inspired by the Indigenous concept of ‘deep listening’, the design for the accommodation wing acknowledges the importance of identity as derived from place.

“Just as we know that providing accommodation is more than just a bed, learning is also more than just a desk,” says Wilson Architects’ managing director, Hamilton Wilson.

“We’ve been inspired by the Aboriginal concept of deep listening. It is a way of encouraging people to explore and learn from the ancient heritage of Aboriginal culture, knowledge and understanding. This has been our philosophy throughout.”

The Indigenous Access Program that the new St. Catherine’s wing supports is called Dandjoo Darbalung, which means “mixing together” in Nyoongar country. The name is a reference to the nearby Swan Estuary, where salt water mixes with fresh water.

Wilson Architects have incorporated this idea of mixing and sharing within their concept for the design. The wing provides a balance of spaces for living and for learning. Ultimately, it aims to facilitate interaction between residents.

While an outdoor fire pit – designed for social gatherings – is at the centre of this concept, the idea of mixing is present throughout the design. For instance, the space delivers a mixture of accommodation options, learning spaces (both indoors and outdoors), and a rooftop garden designated for use by the artist in residence.

“The design truly creates the sense of one giant family living and learning together,” says the head of the college at St. Catherine’s, Fiona Crowe.