An international team led by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) and Woods Bagot has unveiled a formal design vision for the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre (AACC) in the latter firm’s hometown of Adelaide, Australia. Described in a press release as a “gateway to the oldest living cultures in the world” that incorporates the elements of land, earth, and sky, the nearly 124,000-square-foot indigenous arts and cultural complex is set to rise on Kaurna land at the former site of the Royal Adelaide Hospital as part of Adelaide’s Lot Fourteen mixed-use innovation district. That neighborhood is already home to the Australian Space Agency, Australian Institute for Machine Learning, and the Australian Cyber Collaboration Centre.
DS+R and Woods Bagot’s scheme was announced the winner of a global design competition in June 2018, beating out 107 others for the project, which was in its earlier incarnation was envisioned as Adelaide Contemporary. Developed in close collaboration with AACC Ambassador David Rathman AM and members of the AAC Aboriginal Reference Group (ARG), the project has since evolved and will serve as a tourist destination with both national and international reach and a “new paradigm in cultural space design,” per the team.
“The design team’s role was to listen and translate the aspirations and ambitions of the ARG into a design response. The architecture evokes a sense of welcome to all visitors—particularly First Nations peoples—and a connection to culture offered through the human experience,” said Woods Bagot principal Rosina Di Maria said in a statement. “The Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre will be a place for all Australians to remember ourselves, to learn the truth telling of our past, and to re-imagine ourselves together to create new memories as a connected community. It will be a platform for developing Australian culture—informed by the past, shaped by the now, for our future.”
The planned center—“a building of the 21st century, flexing to curation, use and time”—follows a design narrative “based on the deep Aboriginal connection to country, place and kin, with connected layers being the foundation of the design,” according to the vision statement released by the team.
The AACC’s terraced landscapes and lower galleries will be carved from the earth and offer visitors an intimate, terrestrial connection with the site via an outdoor amphitheater as well as indoor exhibition and performance spaces. Directly above in the upper-level galleries, reveals in the multi-leveled structure connect interior spaces directly with the sky “while also exposing the activity within, depicting truth-telling and transparency” per the team. In all, AACC will include over 75,000-square-feet of exhibition space of varying sizes and heights, all of them “seamlessly blending inside with outside, natural with built.” In the center of the building, which will be wrapped in a facade inspired by temporary structures created by Australia’s Aboriginal peoples known as “wurlies” or “humpies” is a spiraling three-story space that doubles as both a natural central gathering area and the main axis for visitor circulation.
“The AACC will welcome visitors through a radically open ground floor, into a safe space with storytelling at its heart,” elaborated DS+R partner Charles Renfro, referring to the future center as a “place of pride that authentically honors the oldest living cultures on the planet.” (The New York-based firm has worked in Adelaide before, namely collaborating with the Australian Dance Theatre for the 2009 Adelaide Festival.)
Linking the building and its exhibition levels to the third element, land, is a “radically welcoming arrival ground plane” that extends in all directions and “reorients the building and its entry to Kaingka Wirra (Adelaide Botanic Garden)” according to the vision statement. In total, the AACC, which will be situated along the eastern end of Adelaide’s storied North Terrace within Lot Fourteen, will be flanked by over 87,000 square feet of landscaped public space.
“It has to be a centre they will all be proud of as a place to present their cultures to the world,” said Rathman, who was appointed to his ambassadorial role in October of last year. “The building has to reach out to you, to make you want to come inside and to come back.”
Construction on the roughly $152 million project, which received an additional $50 million funding boost late last year, is set to kick off later this year with a scheduled completion date in 2025.