Groote Eylandt Housing Masterplan

“The architects when you came and sat together with us showing us how we want our house designed, you know. Yeah, i’m happy, it’s the first time for us choosing our house the way we want.”

Introduction by
Cherelle Wurrawilya Board Member, Anindilyakwa Land Council

Over the last five years, TheFulcrum.Agency have been working with the Anindilyakwa Land Council to improve life for the Indigenous population on the Groote Archipelago through better designed communities and housing. The work is extraordinary, combining long-term community planning and cross-cultural co-design processes.

The issue

On our first trip to the Archipelago, we were presented with a Strategic Plan that declared 100 houses needed to be built as a priority. The question we were asked was where should they be built… and how quickly can you do it?

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The process

The first thing we did was take a step back; we wanted to find out what was needed, what people wanted, and what has and hasn’t worked in the past. Critically, we wanted to understand why.

We met with people one-on-one and had many conversations; we hosted BBQ’s and lunches and held our meetings outside. We learnt about the importance of songlines, moiety and asked questions about culture.

“The project called for genuine collaboration and a commitment to building a long-term relationship with the community."

We were listening and we were learning. Over time we were invited into people’s homes where we gained a deeper understanding of what was needed to address specific housing demands in each community.

We developed bespoke iPad surveys to gather information about things like room occupancy and employed local community representatives to conduct the surveys in Language. This cost a fraction of what it would cost to fly someone in to do the same thing and built a huge amount of trust and community investment in the project.

At the end of all of this we advised: ‘build no more than 6–10 houses per year and design them in such a way that local contractors can do the work. Build properly and for the long term. Learn from the past and ensure all houses are culturally and climatically appropriate.’

The ALC Board was bold in accepting our advice.
An Australian first: Traditional owners direct Indigenous housing projects

The response

Our response is both incremental and radical. It has many inter-related parts and takes into consideration the big picture and the fine detail.

  • First, we co-designed a masterplan that encompasses 7 communities across the Archipelago and anticipates how people might move around according to cultural and practical needs. It is a strategic, long-term planning document, that takes into account the impact of population growth on housing and community-wide infrastructure.

  • Next, we conducted a Housing Audit across the range of existing housing types and documented the results. We discovered that most houses were poorly built or maintained, mouldy and unsafe, culturally inappropriate, and difficult to maintain using local expertise. Long-term repairs and maintenance costs were too high.

  • We then wrote the Groote Housing Guide based on Best Practice Principles underpinned by the work of our colleagues at Health Habitat, the National Indigenous Housing Guide and our consultation and observations within the local community. The Guide creates a template for designing, building and maintaining healthy homes.

  • Now properly informed, we were able to get to work designing the Groote Archipelago Housing Project (‘GAHP’), a series of up to 50 houses built across the 7 communities over 5 years and designed in accordance with the principles outlined in our Housing Guide. The first of the houses are now under construction.

“It is a strategic, long-term planning document, that takes into account the impact of population growth on housing and community-wide infrastructure."


Settlement planning

  • Opportunities for leverage are more likely when projects arrive on our doorstep early in the process, before major planning decisions have been made.

  • A community participatory process combined with the principles set out by the Housing Audit and Housing Guide allowed our client to devise their own core set of development priorities.

  • Housing Reference Groups were formed consisting of equal representation from each clan. TF.A upskilled and encouraged the HRGs to look for opportunity within each new subdivision. E.g. how to ensure better relationships between neighbours, ways to enhance privacy, allow for safer walking, quieter streets, less dust and more places for children to play.

  • In each community, TF.A and the relevant HRG walked the sites together, noting things like important trees, and ensuring that adequate time was given to consultation.

This diagram reveals the direction of natural ventilation corridors
through a home, and the potential of wind scoops to capture cooling breezes and funnel out hot air.
Response to climate
This diagram reveals the direction of natural ventilation corridors
through a home, and the potential of wind scoops to capture cooling breezes and funnel out hot air.

We chose not to ‘innovate’

Instead, we looked to the past and studied the work of others with vast knowledge in this space – from CAT to Troppo to Health Habitat.

  • We designed house plans that are flexible and modular in the way they respond to living arrangements, lot orientations and breeze patterns.

  • We spent time talking through each plan, learning from the community what might work and what wouldn’t.

  • Each plan addresses the cultural factors that often lead to crowding stress; e.g. bedrooms are located in clusters on opposite sides of the house and each cluster has its own bathroom.

  • Protected verandas act as extra sleeping areas for visitors.

  • We embraced the tarp! Non-structural columns and beams have been added to each veranda to allow the creation of temporary walls.

  • Carports include tie-off points and power, enabling them to be used as an additional outdoor living space.

  • Air-conditioners are included in the base design, ensuring quality installation and better opportunities for ongoing maintenance.

  • We’ve further improved thermal comfort through the inclusion of insulation, which helps to prevent mould and allows air-conditioners to work more efficiently.

  • We’ve used concrete block-work, which has a longer life-cycle, is easier to maintain and adapt in the future, and allows for better thermal comfort.

  • We’ve standardized as many of the structural components as possible, with the idea that you can build more effectively over time.

  • Our selection of fixtures and fittings was based on robustness and suitability.

“It's the first time for us, choosing our house the way we want.” Cherelle Wurrawilya, Board Member, Anindilyakwa Land Council

The impact

  • Adaptable housing plans allow for fluid occupation and the potential for changing family structures.

  • Robust detailing, contract administration to ensure quality construction and careful fixture selections have the combined effect of less wear and tear on buildings.

  • Enhanced thermal insulation, the capturing of local breezes through better orientation and a response to indoor/outdoor living patterns means the houses are better suited to the climate and cost less to run.

  • General health and wellness will be improved through less exposure to mould and the installation of appropriate health hardware.

  • The local economy will be boosted through the training and contribution of local Indigenous construction and maintenance teams.

  • They don’t look like standard housing nor a passing phase. These houses are elegant but at the same time perfectly fit within the local context.

They don’t look like standard housing nor a passing phase.
Groote Archipelago Housing Project ‘GAHP’
They don’t look like standard housing nor a passing phase.