Building a better future through culture-led design

3 March 2021

Australia’s devastating summer bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement – these were just some of the major events in 2020 that will shape history.

According to UQ architecture graduate Georgia Birks, a practicing associate at Myers Ellyett Architects and associate editor at Architecture Media, these landmark moments will also inform architectural design for years to come.

UQ architecture graduate Georgia Birks working in the studio at Myers Ellyett. Image: Cathy Schusler.

“With climate change, architects and institutions are pushing for continued awareness to sustainable practices and design,” Birks said.

“In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, we can challenge design thinking in master planning and schematic design to respectfully consider and incorporate past histories and culture, ensuring that all people feel recognised and culturally safe in spaces.”

The Brisbane-based architecture graduate is a proud descendant of the Kamilaori and Dunghutti people, and her ties to her family and culture deeply inform her approach to design.

“My goal is to absorb as much as possible about Indigenous heritage so I can share and educate those around me and within the wider industry,” Birks said.

UQ architecture graduate Georgia Birks visiting the site of a building under development. Image supplied.

"I’m an advocate for creating buildings and spaces that welcome people of all cultural backgrounds.

“I have connected with mentors and friends who have much more knowledge of culture than me. I’ve been leaning on them to learn more, to take my professional conversations to a greater level.”

Birks (Bachelor of Architectural Design ’13, Master of Architecture ’16) graduated from UQ as valedictorian and spent a year working in professional practice, before returning to UQ to complete her master’s degree.

UQ architecture graduate Georgia Birks at UQ's St Lucia campus. Image supplied.

During her undergraduate studies she was awarded the Santos Indigenous Prize and was selected to take part in the Momoyo Kaijima Research Scholarship in Japan.

She is also a current member of the Industry Advisory Board at UQ’s School of Architecture, where she advises on the curriculum and its relevance to industrial and societal needs.

This year, Birks is sharing her philosophy of culture-led design with industry peers through her role as co-curator of the Asia Pacific Architecture Festival (APAF) 2021, which will be held in Brisbane on 13–26 March. The APAF Festival will offer in-person and virtual exhibitions, as well as talks about architecture’s role in the culture, sustainability and economy of the Asia Pacific.

Birks was first invited onto a panel at the APAF Festival in 2019, and was also a co-curator of last year’s festival, which was cut short because of the pandemic.

“Involvement in the festival has been one of my proudest achievements,” she said.

“I’m grateful that I’ve been able to have conversations with national and international architects. I get enjoyment from attending the events and seeing the others’ interest in learning about architectural design across the Asia Pacific.”

This year’s theme is ‘How new is now?’ and, according to Birks, there’s never been a better time to question whether there is such a thing as a new idea.

UQ architecture graduate Georgia Birks. Image supplied.

“The beauty of such a broad theme is that we can consider current political, social, climate and economic issues.

"The theme allows us to reflect on history and its relationship with architecture and design. Architecture is positioned to address these issues and ultimately shape the world we live in.”

- This article was originally published in UQ Contact Magazine.