Masters students from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture, Building & Planning worked with the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation to build an early childhood learning center in the Pilbara region of Western Australia this past June. The students spent ten days in Wakathuni – a ‘homeland’ community with a cluster of 20 houses – working to construct an early childhood center to local needs. The buildings, built from four modified shipping containers, include two dramatic roof structures and be linked with extensive decking and landscaping.
Architect: University of Melbourne
Location: Wakathuni, Australia
Photographs: Jim Stewart
The students will use their time to consult with the community to tailor the design to suit the site, climate and local aspirations. The design is not totally finalized, leaving scope for locals to teach the students the best way to integrate the building to their needs.
The construction of the center marks the start of an ongoing interdisciplinary project that combines expertise and input from the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning with that of the Faculty of Education, who helped oversee the development of an educational model for the early childhood learning center. Instead of dividing the project into two distinct components, the architecture and educational facets of the project will be highly integrated.
Dr David O’Brien, who led the group of students from the Master of Architecture program, said that the project is valuable for both the local community and the students. “Not only will the local community benefit from the new early childhood learning center, but this program will also provide opportunities for students to engage with Indigenous Australians.” he said.
“Too often Indigenous communities are disadvantaged the construction and design processes. Our students work through the issues on-site with the community to obtain a more cohesive and useful outcome. The students really appreciate the opportunity to construct such an important building that assists in Wakathuni’s development.” Professor Collette Tayler from the Faculty of Education has coordinated efforts to bring a new educational approach to early childhood learning in the Wakathuni community. The ‘Abecedarian Approach’, focuses on early childhood support and intervention for children from disadvantaged or at-risk backgrounds. Professor Taylor said, “the Abecedarian approach has had significant success in other communities around the world. We will be working closely with the local community members, consulting them on their needs, insights and opinions to develop a curriculum for children in this community.”
This multifaceted project, managed in partnership by the University of Melbourne and the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation, is also supported by donations from Rio Tinto, Litesteel Industries, Thrifty Car Hire, Bunnings, Modwood and Coolaroo.