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Architectural design competition opens for Ngurra: The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct

Following the Australian Government’s announcement in January 2022 of its commitment to fund construction of the Ngurra Cultural Precinct, AIATSIS is pleased to open Stage 1 of the architectural design competition for the project. 

The Ngurra Cultural Precinct will be nationally-significant in speaking to the central place that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold in Australia’s story. It will sit on what is currently called Commonwealth Place alongside other principal Australian cultural institutions.
The $316.5 million project will comprise two key elements:

  • A National Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Centre – with new and expanded facilities for AIATSIS that empower and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to tell their own stories and celebrate the 65,000-year history of this nation.
  • A National Resting Place to house and care for repatriated limited provenance ancestral remains and any associated cultural material on their journey back to Country.

The Ngurra Cultural Precinct will sit on Country that is home to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people who have lived for thousands of years amid a landscape of limestone plains, mountains, wetlands and streams. The word ‘ngurra’ appears in many different Aboriginal languages around Australia and means ‘home’, ‘country’ or ‘place of belonging’.

The precinct will join the existing institutions within the National Triangle – including the Tent Embassy, National Library of Australia, Questacon, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Australia, and the High Court of Australia.

AIATSIS Council Chairperson Jodie Sizer said that for these reasons the winning design must speak to multiple audiences.

‘It must suit its location, and reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ aspirations, achievements and deep connection to Country,’ Ms Sizer said.

‘For Stage 1 of this competition, AIATSIS is pleased to invite eligible Australian design professionals to provide an expression of interest (EOI) to participate further in the Ngurra Cultural Precinct architectural design competition,’ said Ms Sizer.

‘Following an assessment of the experience and eligibility of those Australian architectural firms that submit EOIs, four will be invited to participate in Stage 2, the competitive design process.’

The first stage of the design competition is endorsed by the Australian Institute of Architects.

AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie said that there is currently no facility in Australia that provides and delivers the functions in a consolidated and centralised form such as those proposed of the Ngurra Cultural Precinct.

‘While respectful of the past, a central goal of the Ngurra Cultural Precinct is to look forward, and to engage with and help shape how we see both our history and our future as a nation,’ Mr Ritchie said.

‘The precinct will do this through the provision of extensive educational, archival, arts and performance spaces, including informal spaces for meeting, learning, and recreation, with social spaces that fit the venue and inspire exploration.

‘The design of the Ngurra Cultural Precinct should fully encompass the importance of the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to this nation while balancing the heritage and environmental aspects of this distinctive site.

‘Consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities will be vital during this process.’

AIATSIS has appointed Ethos Urban to manage the design competition. The design for the Ngurra Cultural Precinct should support the following themes:

  • Renew – Reflect deep and enduring respect for heritage and meaningful understanding to advance the cultural values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Restore – World-leading example of climate-positive design, living place that gives back more to nature than it takes.
  • Replenish – Unlock meaningful economic opportunities and foster innovation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples nationwide.
  • Reflect – Welcome all Australians to learn, celebrate, and embrace our common future, and to move forward on a shared journey of global significance.

Comprising 35,000m2 of functional space, the Ngurra Cultural Precinct will be located on the centre line of the land axis of the National Triangle and part of the Commonwealth Heritage-listed Parliament House Vista. This is one of the major axes of the Walter Burley Griffin design for Canberra, and serves as a central, strategic and symbolic purpose in the planning of the capital. The site is also adjacent to the water axis that is symbolic of the integration of nature within the city.

Established in 1964, AIATSIS is a world-renowned research, collections and publishing organisation, and is the custodian of the world’s largest collection of items, dedicated to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories. The collection of over one million items includes films, photographs, video and audio recordings, print and other resource materials for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies. AIATSIS promotes knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, traditions, languages and stories – past and present.


Last updated: 16 August 2022