University of Technology Sidney
8 – 22 November 2023

What can architecture do? The Centre for Repatriation of Aboriginal Material Culture

The studio is part of a multi-year project to explore approaches to sustainable design by addressing a building program that has relevance in both Australia and Germany. This year, we explore Designing with and on Country as a model for sustainable design that can be applied anywhere in the world.

Berlin is a city of ghosts. Berlin is literally haunted by the past; traces of the Cold War division, the Second World War, the National Socialist regime, and more, dot the urban landscape keeping the past alive in the present. The studio, therefore, addresses at least two ghosts in its program and site -- looted art and cultural objects and the No Man’s Land left by the removal of the Berlin Wall after the end of the Cold War. Working with those two “ghosts,” the students have been asked to imagine a Centre for Repatriation of Indigenous Art and Cultural Objects.

As the country in which archaeology originated, Germany’s museums have long been repositories for art and cultural objects from other countries collected to constitute so-called universal museums meant as places to educate the masses on world culture. Not only archaeologists, but German missionaries, travelers, and others actively collect Indigenous artifacts, which they then sell or donate to German museum collections. This connection between colonial activity and collection, therefore, adds to the ethical dilemmas museums face today.

Over the past decade, controversies have heated up over who ‘owns’ Indigenous art and cultural objects that were removed from their origins and now sit in museum collections. Particularly sensitive are ancestral remains and sacred objects. The ethical questions about ownership are fraught since the ways and means of removal are many, including forced removal, purchase, and trade. Although the Benin bronzes have received the most attention internationally, the newly opened Humboldt Forum in Berlin, along with other German ethnographic museums, has Australian Aboriginal material in its collections.

The studio poses many questions: what can architecture do? How can architecture be more responsive to the site and context? How can architecture offer a space for repatriation? How can architecture help address fraught histories?

The studio explores the complex interrelationships between history, memory, Indigenous knowledge, and the institution with an aim to developing a new type.

The studio is connected to the LAB TALK FUTURE THINKING: Living with Country. How to plan and build with traditional knowledge, with experts discussing the focus topic of climate change response through traditional knowledge of landscape, craft, and place.



Address: Wallstraße 76-79, 10179 Berlin
Time: until January 19, 2024, Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.

Students from the University of Technology Sydney are exhibiting their work in the foyer of the Australian Embassy, Wallstraße 76-79, 10179 Berlin, until January 19, 2024. The focus of the exhibition is on the newly planned Centre for Repatriation of Indigenous Art and Cultural Objects in Berlin. The Embassy exhibition is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.

Studio Coordinator: Deborah Ascher Barnstone

© Images: ANCB and the Australian Embassy in Berlin

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