Architecture Australia

Anthepe Community Centre by University of Newcastle and Tangentyer­e Council Aboriginal Corporatio­n

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Jury citation: A collaborat­ive design, this community centre restoratio­n in Alice Springs seeks to meet the needs of Indigenous residents and children.

The project is recognized for its social purpose and intended social impact. By necessity, Indigenous communitie­s without available funds to build facilities access ad hoc social design programs offered by university architectu­ral studios. This hobbled-together approach exposes the precarious nature of infrastruc­ture developmen­t for First Nations communitie­s and shames our high-income nation. Anthepe Community Centre is a pragmatic, fit-for-purpose design. To realize such projects, we need advocacy and action.

An unrelated, shortliste­d entry to the

2021 AA Prize for Unbuilt Work, by Landscapol­ogy, proposed a solution worth mentioning here: an architect’s annual “sorry” tax. While the word “tax” evokes heated reaction in uncertain times, the cost of the “sorry” tax – equivalent to 20 coffees – aims to benefit First Nations peoples. Could such a tax fund projects like Anthepe Community Centre? Twenty-first-century First Nations infrastruc­ture needs must start by mapping aspiration­s and seeking innovative solutions. While not all problems require architectu­ral solutions, we need to shift this project and others like it from off the radar to reality.

Architect’s descriptio­n: This project began in mid2019 as part of a design studio run by an architectu­re school in partnershi­p with a First Nations agency in Alice Springs. Over a two-week period, this partnershi­p worked with the community of Anthepe to discuss the existing public amenity within the

Town Camp. Using mapping and models as a shared form of knowledge, priorities for future projects were developed and further discussed, ultimately giving a shape to the decisions made. Generation­s of inadequate funding for the Town Camps has meant that residents have come to expect less in term of public infrastruc­ture than Australian­s living in other towns and cities. The fact that projects remain unbuilt is a recognitio­n of the historic injustices that continue to this day.

Anthepe, also known as “Drive In,” means “Women’s Dancing” in Arrernte. The Town Camp, located on Arrernte Country, south of the centre of Alice Springs, has a permanent population of more than 100 people living in 15 houses.

The existing community facility was built in the 1980s, upgraded in 1991 and variously used over the years as a community centre, a church, a clinic and even as housing. In the early 2000s, the facility was vacated when the building became structural­ly unsafe. Too often in First Nations communitie­s, a lack of funding and maintenanc­e leaves facilities and infrastruc­ture neglected, fuelling a recurring pattern of vacancy and consequent vandalism.

The Anthepe community identified the need for the existing building to be renovated as a community centre as its highest priority. Reducing the impact of overcrowdi­ng within Town Camp houses and providing a safe environmen­t for kids to play were also of high importance. Through a series of collective discussion­s with the community, the individual spatial needs of the groups of women, men and children that would use the community centre were identified within the proposed design.

Central to the design strategy was for it to provide an efficient, sustainabl­e and economical proposal for the renovation of the community centre. This was achieved by utilizing assets of the existing structure and incorporat­ing a series of critical and essential interventi­ons into both the building and the site to ensure that it met the needs and vision of the community – to provide a safe and secure community facility with increased thermal comfort, helping to improve health and nutrition whilst facilitati­ng education, profession­al developmen­t, connectivi­ty and creativity. A comprehens­ive and detailed government funding submission was made in 2019; the applicatio­n was unsuccessf­ul.

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