Populous Fellowship awarded for First Nations collaborative design research

May 16, 2022

For more than ten years, Populous has been awarding research-based study Fellowships to employees across the globe to stimulate new ideas and stretch creative thinking. The topics have been vast and varied, from crowd dynamics and movement trends through to artificial intelligence (AI) in stadia, sports architecture as emergency and humanitarian design, planning tools for airports, and creating immersive experiences through game engine toolkits.

Populous Associate Senior Interior Designer in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, Sue DesBrosses is one of the most recent Fellowship recipients. Throughout 2022, Sue will be looking at new ways Populous can effectively collaborate with First Nations people so that we can further learn from their deep knowledge and refine and establish principles we can apply in our work, regardless of a project’s location. Sue’s work recognises that by sharing their stories, we can help to keep First Nations languages and culture alive.

“If you look at aspects of First Nations culture, such as traditional weaving and art, it’s significant and we can help share it with the world – expose it and keep it out in the open,” Sue explains.

We might be able to help educate people about First Nations wisdom, such as their sustainability practices and songline maps, and it’s an opportunity to enrich our work and the experience for visitors to the venues and events we work on. Collaboration is an opportunity to heal and learn.

Sue DesBrosses, Senior Interior Designer

As part of the Fellowship award, recipients can utilise paid time off to conduct their research, as well as substantial funding for project expenses and consultants. Sue’s research will draw on external sources, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and she is already in discussions with Indigenous policymakers, activists and artists in Australia and internationally to learn about their experiences as First Nations people or their experiences of working alongside First Nations people.

A recent Populous project that connects with First Nations cultures is Wiigulga Sports Complex, which was renamed from ‘Woolgoolga’ in 2021 to reflect the local Gumbaynggirr name for the site, referring to the locally found black apple tree. The sports complex is a long-awaited multipurpose venue providing an inclusive and engaging space for the local community to celebrate, learn, play and perform together.

  • Wiigulga Sports Complex entry
  • Wiigulga Sports Complex lobby

Populous Principal and Architect, Belinda Goh said that the diverse and extensive community input through the Local Council over more than a decade has resulted in an authentic gathering space where everyone can feel a sense of ownership and belonging, including the Gumbaynggirr People.

“The interior design approach and architectural language within the scheme for Wiigulga reflects the local Indigenous history and storytelling, as well as the multicultural mix of the Northern New South Wales coastal region. For the Gumbaynggirr people, Wiigulga tells a story of seasonal migration between the beach and hinterland, with the site being a place of learning, growth and development and intergenerational engagement. This is a place where they taught their young people the ways, the traditions and respect for the land,” she said.

A young Gumbaynggirr artist, Tulli Stevens, was selected through an expression of interest (EOI) process by Coffs Harbour City Council and the National Aboriginal Design Agency, with Gumbaynggirr Elders assessing the submissions. Tulli’s Aboriginal artwork and the architectural design were underpinned by a truly collaborative relationship, with the artwork colours, ideas and design elements meaningfully integrated through the façade and interiors, informing an authentic place of gathering and community. Tulli shared that she enjoyed being part of the project and that it reinforced the importance of creating collaborations with First Nations people.

It has been an exciting and humbling process working in collaboration with Populous to bring together an artwork that holds such deep meaning. Being able to share the story of our land, the land I grew up on, has been a special experience for me. It is so important to educate and to share knowledge of Indigenous cultures around the world.

Tulli Stevens, Indigenous Artist
  • Left to right: Populous Associate and Architect Craig Gralton, Tulli Stevens and Dan Heather from Coffs Harbour City Council, standing in front of the entry façade which will feature Tulli's Indigenous artwork.

For Belinda, the process of selecting and working with Tulli brought home the depth of the site’s story and has shaped the design of the project. “I loved that the concept of intergenerational learning and engagement came through in the selection of the artist. The Elders chose a young artist, and this project provided a platform and gave her a pathway, nurturing her development. It’s the story of the site carrying through into the design, drawing on the values around learning, cultural respect and gathering for the future generations of users of the precinct,” she shared.

As Populous continues to unpack the explicit and implicit stories that are told through designs such as Wiigulga Sports Complex, we’re looking forward to Sue’s Fellowship research output and how it will support the ways in which we work with clients and communities to shape their gathering spaces and venues for generations to come. To hear more about the city and community-shaping projects in Populous’ history, tune in to Shaping the World’s Cities (Episode Two) from our podcast, Drawing People Together.

Populous worked as Principal Design Consultant on Wiigulga Sports Complex, along with Coffs Harbour City Council, APP as the Project Manager, and Lahey Constructions as the main contractor.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *