The First Nations architect reflects on the power of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre in the Northern Territory.
Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Uluru for the first time on a work trip. As a young Indigenous architect [Reti is 27], I work predominantly in community, so my directors told me it was important to go and see the cultural centre while I was there. The centre was built by Gregory Burgess Architects in the mid-’90s at the base of Uluru. It was co-designed with community and set an important precedent for the work I do. Its aim is to educate visitors on the concept of Country and the Traditional Owners, the Anangu people.
The textures and colours of the materiality are born from Anangu Country. It’s a free-form structure built from 90,000 mudbricks that were made onsite from local soil. It has a fluid shape that reflects the curves of Uluru and Kata Tjuta and represents two ancestral beings, Kuniya the woma python and Liru the venomous snake, who battled at Mutitjulu Waterhole and helped create Uluru. Although the internal rooms are quite dark, it never feels cold or dank. Instead it has a cavernous effect in the spaces where exhibitions are held and facilitates the sharing of the Traditional Owners’ stories and history.
I didn’t anticipate feeling so connected to Country inside the building. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are icons and the imagery feels very spiritual. While it doesn’t do it quite as well as Country itself, the building does have an energy about it that reflects these incredible natural landscapes. Part of the journey of going to Uluru is walking the trails around its base – the way people are encouraged to move through the building has a fluid path that feels reminiscent of those trails.
This is the peak of good Indigenous architecture. When this type of work happens successfully, it doesn’t start with the building, it starts with genuinely engaging with community. Gregory Burgess embedded the knowledge he learnt from the Traditional Owners and that shows in the architecture.
Palawa and Ngāti Wai woman Marni Reti works at Kaunitz Yeung Architecture (kaunitzyeung.com), a Sydney-based firm that delivers projects for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.