- SuperAdobe is a variant of rammed-earth
- The thick walls help with temperature regulation
- Bawoorrooga is located some 2,600km from Perth
SuperAdobe Self-build Sustainable House is a project by the Foundation for Indigenous Sustainable Health (FISH) in partnership with Bawoorrooga Community.
FISH was originally established to address the severe housing crisis in Indigenous communities throughout Australia.
Acknowledging Aboriginal people have a living spiritual, cultural, familial and social connection with country, FISH seeks to bring healing to the spirit, heart, mind, body and land to help create healthy people and communities.
2,600km from Perth
Bawoorrooga is a remote community 100km from Fitzroy Crossing. Its founders, Claude Carter and Andrea Pindan, both recognised artists, have the dream of becoming a self-sufficient community.
They have the ideas; FISH provides the support to make them happen.
Together, they have established a long-term development plan. It is a long journey:
- Stages 1 and 2 comprise an earth house for Mr Carter and Ms Pindan’s family and a food-forest orchard with 400 plants of 30 species that will produce fresh fruit, initially for the community, and later to be developed as a market garden.
- Stages 3 and 4 comprise a workers’ accommodation camp and enterprise centre. These will be made adapting donated transportable buildings from a mine-site, and are currently in early implementation. Stages 5 and 6 include tourist accommodation and a roadhouse to provide employment and economic independence.
The project started by sitting down with the mob on the red sand of Gooniyandi country, as a community co-design and collaborative process. The first need was a house for the family, to replace the previous dwelling lost to a fire.
Designed for the family
Life is different between city and country, in whitefella and blackfella culture, in hot and cold climates.
This house is designed for the needs of a family in the remote Kimberley, following their customs and culture – and adapted to the harsh environment with temperatures rising to 45 degrees and rugged stormy wet seasons, sustainably and affordably. It belongs to the place and to the people.
The community says the sacred land of their ancestors now protects them in the form of walls.
Cross-ventilation, double-ventilated roof and shaded eaves are called their natural air-conditioners. Round bathroom windows represent waterholes.
A shaded outdoor kitchen with windbreaks and a fire-pit is the family’s meeting place, where the kangaroo is cleaned, cooked and shared, sitting on the flat rocks from ancestral country.
Earth is the main material.
In a community 2,600km from Perth, it is sustainable, local and free. SuperAdobe is a variant of rammed-earth, with walls built using long bags filled with compressed earth. Thanks to its simplicity, this technique allows every community member, young and old, to participate in the co-design and co-building process.
The thick earth walls buffer and store the day’s heat, releasing it at night when temperatures drop. In the cooler hours the cross ventilation, helped by ceiling fans powered by solar, allow the heat to dissipate, cooling the walls to again resist the next day’s heat.
Bawoorrooga elders are thrilled with the progress of their new home:
“My house is alive, just like a person – it’s breathing. It’s made from Mother Earth, Gooniyandi country. In the daytime, it keeps you cool, and at night-time it keeps you warm…
“That FISH mob – they’re the first people who ever really asked us what we wanted … They really sat down and designed it together with us. That design – it was the right one. It’s like they’ve lived with us for ten years!”
Throughout the project, FISH has collaborated with the Fitzroy Valley District High School to help students engage in learning through practical, outdoor, hands-on work; establishing a system of academic credit recognition. The school remarked of one student that:
“He has become more mature, sensible and now he likes learning. He is learning in a real sense about measurement, angles and about tools, he’s learning to work with people and to work in a responsible way and above all, he’s contributing to the benefit of his community.”
FISH also partners with the WA Department of Justice. The house has already kept several adolescent boys out of prison, with the Department and the Courts recognising that the project offers a constructive and healing alternative to incarceration in cases of remand, suspended sentences or community work.
Fitzroy Valley elders are well aware of the importance of positive youth engagement in addressing community safety and crime prevention.
At Bawoorrooga, project participants have thrived on seeing what they can accomplish on their homeland through teamwork and persistence.
FISH works with Bawoorrooga community members to build their skills in community governance and financial independence.
They have held two art exhibitions in Perth where Claude Carter and Andrea Pindan have displayed their paintings, raising money to make their contribution to the cost of the house.
This is combined with the “sweat equity” of community labour, which creates a powerful sense of ownership and personal investment. This element is essential in creating a lasting and healthy home.
The SuperAdobe house has been developed as a prototype for sustainable remote community housing. It is a model that includes the use of local materials, adaptation to the climate, involvement of the community at all stages and training throughout the project.
In 2019, FISH was awarded the United Nations Human Rights Award WA in recognition of the project’s contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The project was also a finalist for the 2019 Banksia National Sustainability Awards.
The human impact of architecture and building can be seen in Bawoorrooga elders’ remarks:
“We’d like to thank everyone for helping us heal. We hope for this sort of project to happen in other communities that are battling like us. Before, it was really a downfall. Now, we feel our ‘lien’ (spirit) has gone up and up as we built these walls. We feel ‘wideo’ (happy), like our soul is really strong. It’s really happening now – things are growing!”
The build has become the community’s central activity; involving training, outdoor learning, team building, healthy habits, ownership and pride. Architecture can help address social problems such as unemployment and disempowerment. This is a project for the community by the community.
Written by Jara Romero. Photography by Foundation for Indigenous Sustainable Health (FISH).
This story was originally published in The Architect magazine, an official publication of the Australian Institute of Architects. It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune.
The Property Tribune thanks the Australian Institute of Architects for the opportunity to republish the work, and shine a light on Australian architecture.