Winning design for Australia’s first Indigenous residential college revealed

The University of Technology Sydney has revealed the winning design for the first comprehensive Indigenous residential college in Australia.

Designed by Greenaway Architects, Warren and Mahoney and Oculus, the National First Nations College will be built on Gadigal and on Harris Street in inner-Sydney’s Ultimo, adjacent to the Dr Chau Chak Wing building designed by Frank Gehry.

The college will accommodate more than 250 students in studio, single and multiple-bedroom units with communal kitchens and dining areas. It will also include communal spaces and neighbourhood amenities, a central precinct space for informal gatherings, cultural events and smoking ceremonies, an arts centre with public art and performance spaces, a student art studio and music room, as well as a multi-purpose room, media room, quiet study areas, meeting rooms, office spaces, student support spaces.

UTS National First Nations College by Greenaway Architects, Warren and Mahoney and Oculus.

UTS National First Nations College by Greenaway Architects, Warren and Mahoney and Oculus.

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Greenaway Architects, Warren and Mahoney and Oculus

UTS first announced its plans to create an Indigenous residential college in December 2018 and a national design competition was launched in December 2022.

UTS said parts of the design competition brief was prepared by an Indigenous Australian architect, and each of the six shortlisted teams included an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander architect or designer as a cultural design lead.

“Because the college will be a place where Indigenous people feel at home and hosts to our non-Indigenous colleagues, it’s critical that we not just ensure the design process is Indigenous-led, but that it also incorporates cultural values and physical features that are important to Indigenous students,” said Robynne Quiggin, UTS Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Leadership and Engagement).

UTS National First Nations College by Greenaway Architects, Warren and Mahoney and Oculus.

UTS National First Nations College by Greenaway Architects, Warren and Mahoney and Oculus.

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Greenaway Architects, Warren and Mahoney and Oculus

The winning team’s design has been lauded for its connection to Country translated into the built environment. The building will embody architectural and design excellence and promote caring for Country. It will also strongly acknowledge Traditional Custodians and local communities.

“We’re building on the deep legacy of Indigenous knowledge in order to come up with a new model of a what a First Nations college is in the 21st century,” said Jefa Greenaway, a Wailwan and Kamilaroi architect and cultural design lead of the winning team.  

“We’ve sought to really infuse the legacy and history of Indigenous people, trailblazers, warriors who have come before, so we’re not starting from a clean slate. We’re acknowledging not only the deeper history, but also the more recent histories around Aboriginal activism and the College’s proximity to places like Redfern, which were very much an incubator for Indigenous activism and civil rights.”

Simon Topliss, principal at Warren and Mahoney, added,“The design expresses Indigenous culture through its form and function, and supports a new generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island leaders to build culture, community and pride.”

UTS National First Nations College by Greenaway Architects, Warren and Mahoney and Oculus.

UTS National First Nations College by Greenaway Architects, Warren and Mahoney and Oculus.

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Greenaway Architects, Warren and Mahoney and Oculus

The project will include extensive native gardens and landscape features. “Our team’s deep collaboration was always embedded in Country and committed to a people-focused approach setting out to enrich the student experience and celebrate the power of Country in a contemporary urban context,” said Bob Earl, founding partner of Oculus.

The college aims to increase the number of Indigenous students accessing higher education and is in keeping with the university’s philosophy for Indigenous self-determination.

“The National First Nations College will raise the bar on efforts to increase Indigenous participation, retention and success in higher education, and help to remove a major barrier by providing access to cost-covered, culturally informed and enriched accommodation,” said UTS vice-chancellor Andrew Parfitt.

“It will not only address the student-housing gap, but also make a strong contribution to the national identity and Indigenous employment growth in Australia.”

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