Plans for Adelaide’s Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre (AACC), whose reference design was unveiled in February, have now entered the South Australian planning approval process, after being submitted to the State Commission assessment panel. Conceived by the collaboration between international architecture stars, diller scofidio + renfro (DS+R) and the locals Woods Bagot, the new 123,800 square metre venue is shaped to reflect upon the First Nations Dreaming, showcasing the past, present, and future of Aboriginal cultures in the ‘everywhen‘. It will also support a range of contemporary art practices and events across a variety of disciplines. DS+R believe it will ultimately serve “as a new paradigm in cultural space design”.

The architects claim that a large portion of the site will be enhanced by a combination of plants and vegetation, paving, walls, terracing and seating, along with a range of water features, all designed to welcome people in. Meanwhile, a series of interconnected pathways will wind around the building and flow into smaller, peaceful areas throughout the site, enabling visitors to take time out from the city’s pace and immerse themselves in a landscape that leads into the Botanic Gardens.

Since the reference design for the building was unveiled, the concept has developed through deeper and wider engagement with Aboriginal communities as part of a cooperative design process. Rosina di Maria, principal designer of Woods Bagot, believes their work has been “driven by truth-telling and transparency and staying true to the original design narrative. The design has been led by engagement with the Aboriginal Reference Group,” she adds. It was the Group’s idea to create stronger connection to Country, now placing the feature gallery completely outdoors, while the building appears to originate from the earth with columns that seem to grow from out of the ground.

Di Maria also says the team is aware of a profound responsibility. “This project is a path to reconciliation, an important moment in setting the future for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. We’re designing a vessel to hold—to nurture and care for—the stories of the world’s oldest and resilient, continuous culture on earth. The design must speak to the whole nation and especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia”.

Sited on Kaurna land at Lot Fourteen, the former site of the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the AACC will provide a platform for First Nations people to share their cultures and tell their stories, including spaces for permanent and visiting exhibitions, cultural performances, meetings and ceremonies, gatherings and events, plus a café and retail space.

An Adelaide City Deal project, the $200-million AACC will receive up to $85 million from the Federal Government towards construction, with the Government of South Australia providing the additional $115 million.

And this has been justified by a KPMG business case which took off from the following Australia Council and Federal Government figures:
Australia’s Aboriginal tourism has a projected value of (an almost unbelievable) $5.8 billion annually, catering to 910,000 international visitors and 688,000 overnight domestic trips in 2016. This is an increase of 41% since 2013. In the same year, seven million Australians experienced First Nations arts, a figure that has more than doubled since 2009.

Surveys claim that 80% of South Australians believe that First Nations arts are an important part of Australia’s culture. As the first dedicated ‘world-class’ Indigenous cultural institution at this scale, the AACC provides a valuable opportunity to expand South Australian’s share of both the general tourism market and the cultural tourism market.

Construction is expected to begin later this year, with the opening scheduled for early 2025.