Communities help architecture students reimagine Redfern

UNSW Master of Architecture students have been working with Redfern residents to design community-friendly spaces as part of the Resilient Neighbourhoods project.


Phtoto: Supplied

Thirty UNSW Master of Architecture students are using Redfern as a living lab to design community-friendly spaces that actually meet the needs of the people who live there.

Focusing on three building sites – Sydney Mental Health Services, The Aboriginal Medical Service Co-operative and 107 Projects art collective – the students have spent one day a week on site throughout the academic year, exploring the translation of social, political and economic components of resilience into urban built form.

Their projects will feature in the Resilient Neighbourhoods exhibtion that is part of the Sydney Design Festival.

The projects form part of the Social Agency stream that is one of four specialisations in the Architecture PLUS program in the Faculty of Built Environment. The stream trains students to design buildings within a humanitarian context that assists communities.

Course convenor and Judith Neilson Chair in Architecture Professor David Sanderson said Redfern was chosen for Resilient Neighbourhoods because it was a gentrifying area that risked marginalising and displacing people who had lived there for a long time. The three buildings were chosen because they represent wellbeing, inclusion and creativity, the central themes of the Social Agency stream. The aim of the project is to educate future architects to consult with people living in the communities that they build.

“I hope that the architecture students will appreciate the critical importance of engaging with people in their design processes, in particular those who are often not heard or consulted in any meaningful way,” he said


Professor David Sanderson (centre) addresses Master or Architecture students working on the Resilient Neighbourhoods project. Photo: Hayden Co'Burn

Master of Architecture student Hayden Co’burn’s project, re:habitat, reconceptualises housing, community and mental healthcare.

“The project aligns with leading overseas urban mental healthcare models that reorient community-based services at the front line rather than depending on acute institutionalisation,” he said. “This approach is a more effective allocation of resources and promotes mental wellness and dissolves the stigma around mental illness.”

Co’Burn found that the community consultation process provided valuable information that might otherwise be omitted from the design process.

“We found that literature and data often don't reflect the complex, layered challenges felt at the human scale within urban fabric,” he said.

“Lengthy discussions with community members uncovered detailed and overlapping concerns over gentrification, the prevalence of substance abuse and mental illness that compound in increased densities.

“We heard from our community that resources are accessible but often sparse and ill-oriented to effectively address the issue. Some of these members provided incredibly valuable insight into systemic faults and often saw viable solutions if bureaucracy wasn't rampant in the regions that need the most diversification.”


Chaze Ding's model of an art factory for the Resilient Neighbourhoods exhibition. Photo: Chaze Ding

Chaze Ding’s project supports the formation of local art communities that will encourage artistic practice among artists and local residents to support diversity.

“My vision is to introduce a recycled container and crane system to serve the community in Redfern. The art factory design will focus on how flexible art spaces can shape local creative industries and generate possibilities to encourage artists to support diversity in the suburb,” he said. “The delivery of the best solution may not be designed by architects, but possibly delivered by local residents and artists themselves.”

Ding gained valuable insights into the social aspects of architectural practice through the consultative nature of the project.

“The project helped me to explore the translation of social, political and economic components of resilience in urban form, and to develop an architecture of resilience,” he said.

“The focus on wellbeing, inclusion and creativity helped me to understand community resilience, and to think critically about current issues.”

Co’Burn said the biggest lesson he had learnt during the project was to step back and let the community tell their story.

“Learn to listen without intention,” he said. “The greatest opportunities synthesise when you allow society to express itself freely and make unprejudiced observations.”

The UNSW Master of Architecture student’s projects will feature in the Resilient Neighbourhoods exhibition. The exhibition opening will be held at 107 Projects at 6pm on 7 March as part of the Sydney Design Festival.