Australia’s colonial history is evident throughout our architecture and design - monolithic sandstone buildings in our cities and towns, Victorian terraces in our suburbs, and everything from art-deco to mid-century modern and ultra-contemporary now dotting our skylines. However, there’s a notable lack of design that is informed by the knowledge and traditions of our first nations peoples; design that is informed by a deep understanding of landscape and climate forged over 60,000 years of culture.

Christian Hampson is a proud Woiwurrung and Maneroo man with an extensive background in Indigenous Cultural Heritage management. In 2018, Christian co-founded Yerrabingin, a visionary start-up that seeks to disrupt conventional approaches to ending Indigenous disadvantage and create intercultural opportunities for future generations to thrive. Yerrabingin has become a leading force in the commercial design industry by delivering environmentally conscious native landscapes and place making designs enriched with Indigenous narratives.

“We have this design sensibility in Australia, that, in many cases, is borrowed from other cultures,” says Christian. “So even when we look at current designs in Australia, if you had a bunch of pictures of buildings, you probably couldn’t tell which ones are Australian. But if you lined up 10 pictures of 10 different landscapes, nine times out of 10, you’d be able to pick which one is the Australian landscape. So I think our design identity can mature to the point that we have an identifiably Australian signature approach.”

Better integration of First Peoples’ knowledge into solutions for design and climate change is something that is coming to the fore not just in Australia, but globally. Christian sees the benefits that Australian indigenous peoples’ culture brings to our current climate issues. “So there's two factors, there's tens of thousands of years of close connection to landscape and climate and the changes, and what that's meant at a cultural level. And then the other thing is that environmental consciousness is actually the key component of our spirituality. We don't believe in heaven or hell, we live in it right now. And therefore, you must look after your own nest. There's a mental and a physical well-being aspect to country, and even in an urban environment, we can have that if we design these places properly. And that is the opportunity.”

“I think, just by people wanting to have that bit of that connection to the landscape, it recommends materials that are sustainable, that fit our environment better,” he continues. Christian advocates for an approach that could be considered hyper-local, relying on the innate knowledge of different first nations groups about the prevailing environmental and micro-climatic conditions on their country. “Different mobs have different seasons, and it's all based around when certain things are happening. And I think if we get down to that level of awareness of local environments, we can build larger buildings that perform better because they’re really in tune with their location. So if I'm on George Street in Sydney, down near the harbour, that's different to when I'm building a house up in Liverpool.”

Ultimately, the elevation of first nations voices when it comes to architecture and design within Australia stands to create positive outcomes on social, economic, and cultural scale - not just for indigenous people, but for all Australians. “There’s a really big opportunity to ensure First Nations people in the design conversation. Creating the opportunity to narrate and have their fingerprints on those places is really quite empowering and something that I think that visitors and people who live in different suburbs would be very open to.”

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