Jefa Greenaway

Posted 2 Sep 16

By Indigo Holcombe James

Jefa Greenaway is a Wailwan and Kamilaroi man. He is Director of Greenaway Architects, the Chair of Indigenous Architecture + Design Victoria, and Honorary Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

Jefa was a panellist at our sold out Melbourne Knowledge Week 2016 event, ’60, 000+ Years of Innovation’, where we discussed Aboriginal approaches to circular knowledge in art, design, architecture, academia and innovation.

What attracted you to architecture?

I think it was my love for drawing, and the connection that it provides from mind to hand. Architecture allows you to conceptualise something and then to realize it: first as a sketch, and then second through building it.

I think probably underpinning this, though, is a theme of wanting to know how things work. For me, the essence of what good architecture does is creative problem solving. In this, perhaps, architecture is less creative and more technical. It’s the execution of creativity, and this is what I find interesting.

As I get older, I’m finding more and more that I want to provide real value. So I teach, and am involved in extracurricular things like consulting, or guest lecturing.

How do you privilege Aboriginal knowledge and ways of working in an architectural context?

Part of the reason behind leaving the safety net of work for others by establishing Greenaway Architects, was to give myself the freedom to explore how best to privilege these ways of working.

I regularly seek to infuse Aboriginal knowledge and ways of working in our practice in overt and covert ways. Key to this, is infusing our projects with Indigenous place making principles by ensuring projects are tangibly connecting to country. Through this, I contend that we can convey stories and narratives that are often left unsaid.

Our designs are often interwoven with engaging narratives, as a way of broadening the frame of reference to how the broader public connects to Australia’s First Peoples and culture.

Our work is embedded with a connection to Indigenous sensibilities that go beyond stereotypes. Our culture is lived, subtle and evolving. It is neither static nor fixed in time or rooted in clichés. There is an unashamedly contemporary nature to our culture that we can and should be expressing and celebrating.

How do you embed these concepts of living culture into what are arguably static constructs?

While buildings might be seen to be rigid and static, landscapes aren’t and nor are the activities within. The geographic location of the building will always be changing, as will the views that those inside the building look out to. Constantly altering surroundings can make buildings feel different and distinct, particularly when they are designed to connect, amplify or contrast with these changing facets.

Even internally, you can embed flexibility into layouts, so that the building is reflective of Aboriginal resilience, capacity for change and adaptation.

With Reuben Berg at Indigenous Architecture + Design Victoria, you played a key role in the redesign of the Koorie Heritage Trust building in Federation Square. Can you tell us a bit about that?

This was such a great project to work on. The Trust redesign was an opportunity to unpack a lot of the things I’d been thinking about: how Aboriginal ways of thinking can be embedded in the built environment.

The Trust is now in the Yarra Building at Fed Square and it’s situated essentially parallel to the Birrarung. From this point alone, there are incredible connections to culture and country that are worth focusing on. It was a challenging site, as it had always essentially turned its back to the river. So a key component of the design work was about articulating how the building is by proximity tangibly connected to culture and country through the Birrarung. These were the touchstones we brought to the project: we brought country into the building.

You worked with Kalinya on the City of Melbourne Knowledge Week event, 60, 000+ Years of Innovation. Can you tell us about this?

I met Jirra a few years ago at an arts event, and we’ve continued to stay in touch. There are a number of synergies connecting us: we are driven by business and expressions of creativity. But more than this, we’re both interested in focussing on good stories and moving away from the deficit model that for so long has defined our communities.

The Knowledge Week event was a unique opportunity to work together. It was one of the only (if not the only) specifically curated conversation focussed on the strength in Indigenous culture in a contemporary context, which showcased the value of Indigenous knowledge systems now. I found it incredibly liberating. Our voices weren’t just tacked on, or arbitrary: they were the main event.

The event demonstrated the continuities and depth of Indigenous culture across a broad range of industries and proved that innovative Indigenous knowledge is subverting the current paradigm.

In terms of the future of Indigenous Architecture… We walk on the shoulders of our Elders and those who’ve come before us. Architecture, and working in the built environment, is a space where real contributions can be made around advocacy and embedding Indigenous culture (literally) within the spaces we live and work.