18th International Architecture Biennale


The International Architecture Biennale is a bi-annual architecture and art festival organised by La Biennale di Venezia, Società di Cultura. The Australian Institute of Architects called for expressions of interest for creative directors in mid 2022 to curate Australia’s exhibit based on theme of the Biennale Architettura 2023 – The Laboratory of the Future.

Our proposal Sanctuary is a collaboration between Alyssa Nelson, Maddie Goldsmith and David Homburg of Baukultur, Natalie Carfora of MOD, Kaurareg Nation descendant Tiahni Adamson, Trish Hansen of Urban Mind Studio and Senior Karuna Man Mickey Kumatpi O’Brien.

Sanctuary proposes a new way of knowledge creation, blending regenerative design, contemporary design processes and First Nations perspectives. It is driven by an urgent need for a system of thinking that can simultaneously resolve both the detail and the systems level impacts of our actions as designers.

Laboratories have been the locus for the scientific advances that have formed the basis of modern western thought and benefitted our society. However they have also created siloes and disconnection, favouring movement and action over discussion, engagement, and reflection on consequences.

The world views of First Nations people offer a way forward. In contrast to western thinking, First Nations peoples view the world at a systems level where all things are interrelated, not just an assembly of components. People are just one part of a greater whole, not the apex. Knowledge is developed and passed on through discussion, consultation, and deep consideration and understanding of Country.

Importantly, First Nations knowledge systems are highly adaptive to change, the type of change that is confronting us right now.

There is a developing body of thinking that brings together the best of both western and First Nations world views – in a mutually respectful and beneficial relationship.

Described as Intercultural Science[1], it understands that western knowledge “is only one form of knowledge system among others, and that knowledge is always embedded in cultural and historical settings”[2]

[1] Rist and Dahdouh-Guebas, 2006

[2] Ibid.

It is this idea that our proposition for the Laboratory of the Future as a Sanctuary seeks to capture, creating a ‘laboratory’ where we can gather together the wisdom and experience of walking in two worlds to deeply consider the impact of decisions from a ‘whole-of-systems’ world view, guiding us towards a regenerative future.

Conceived on Kaurna Country, Sanctuary is rooted in the place of Karrawirra Parri (River Red Gum Forest aka the River Torrens). Karrawirra Parri is the lifeblood of Kaurna Country, a river system intersecting the Adelaide plains and the city, connecting the Mt Lofty Ranges to the Gulf of St Vincent. It has been a place of gathering, sharing knowledge and exchange for thousands of years.

At its heart, our Laboratory of the Future will be a place of gathering, driven by the sharing of stories, ideas, and innovations, a living lab grounded by its place of conception – Karrawirra Parri – taking the first steps toward a new knowledge system, framed by both First Nations Australian and western knowledge traditions, that will allow us to create new approaches to dealing with our current challenges.

Shifting Perspective

Creating a ‘laboratory’ space for gathering to unlearn and relearn, where wetern thought processes and world views are re-positioned to collectively rethink our futures. The familiar world of architecture becomes the unfamiliar.

“Way of seeing the world” – Lesley Lokko

Western Knowledge

The city grid of Adelaide, denoted by poles, is used to remind visitors of the challenges the ‘compartmentalized’ nature of western thinking has created for our world. It decomposes toward the ‘laboratory’, initiating the move toward a new perspective.

Understanding Country

The ‘underlay’ of Kaurna Country and Karrawirra Pari, which is always present in the city’s background, and has always been a gathering place, becomes the catalyst for the form and feel of the ‘laboratory’. Its tactile qualities are represented, creating an immersive experience and reminding visitors that nature is also a ‘client’.

“Specific about a place and context to understand all” – Lesley Lokko

The pavilion is designed to be an immersive experience, transporting visitors to Karrawirra Pari through a series of sensory interventions.

1. Sound immersion will be created through a number of speakers, playing the voices of Kaurna people that we consult with discussing their relationship with Karrawirra Pari, in addition to nature audio recordings taken from the river – the River’s Voice.

2. Place of transition, to take off ones shoes and through the tactility of water – Connect to Country.

3. The embodied experience will see visitors beginning in a constrictive “Western” grid, forcing visitors through a set path before opening up into the main space.

4. A place to gather, reflect, and share, aided by provocations to be displayed – either digitally or through text decals. This interpersonal interaction is integral in the creation of oneness.

5. Olfactory connection to place with the scent of Red River gum hanging in the air.

6. Connection to place through enhancing the views to canal beyond.