Torres Strait Islander architect recognised for Community Impact

16 September 2021

Congratulations to Torres Strait Islander architect and artist Kevin O'Brien for earning an Indigenous Community Impact Award, as part of 2021 UQ Alumni Awards.

Mr O'Brien - Bachelor of Architecture 1995; Master of Philosophy (Architecture) 2006 - was recognised for his contribution to improving understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by designing spaces that connect with the history of the Country on which they are built, and for his advocacy for this approach in the design community and beyond.

He is a leading Australian architect who places Indigenous knowledge of Country at the centre of his practice.

In 1997, he became a founding member of the Merrima Aboriginal Design Unit of the Government Architects Office of New South Wales and worked on institutional projects with NSW Aboriginal communities until 2001. In 2007 and 2008, he served as a Director of Architects Without Frontiers, a non-profit organisation providing architectural services to disaster areas around the globe.

Mr O’Brien established his own practice, Kevin O’Brien Architects, in Brisbane in 2006. In 2018, this practice merged with international firm BVN, where Mr O’Brien currently works as a Principal Architect.

He has also been a Professor of Design for the QUT School of Architecture and Built Environment and a Professor of Practise at the University of Sydney. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of Sydney.

Asked about his inspiration as an architect, Mr O'Brien said "the late Peter O’Gorman, a well-known UQ lecturer, was the most influential teacher during my undergraduate architecture degree at UQ".

"Upon graduation, I assisted Peter in the building of the Mooloomba House on Minjerribah/Stradbroke Island. This moment confirmed my desire to become a practising architect.

"The late Rewi Thompson was the most influential advisor during my postgraduate degree at UQ. Rewi was an architect of Maori heritage and we shared an understanding of the importance of culture. Rewi drew out of me an awareness of Country as an origin for thinking about architecture.

"In 1983, in my family’s backyard, I set out a pattern using petrol ending at the BBQ. Upon lighting it, I was delighted to see the flame race around and then to my horror, blow up the BBQ. My mother was not impressed. In 2012, in Venice at the opening of my exhibition, I took a blow torch to the central exhibit – an 8mx3m drawing of Brisbane – and burnt it.

"Launching my Finding Country Exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2012 was one of my proudest moments."