A remote challenge for design construct students

The new ranger accommodation at Fish River. ART AND DESIGN
The new ranger accommodation at Fish River.

A two-year project has seen a group of UniSA students and teaching enthusiasts complete challenging upgrades to ranger accommodation in remote Australia.

The UniSA Design Construct team working on the Fish River project, on site.The UniSA Design Construct team working on the Fish River project, on site.

UniSA’s Design Construct Program in the School of Art, Architecture and Design offers students from a range of professional disciplines hands-on experience designing and constructing real projects.

In 2016, the program was approached by the Indigenous Land Corporation to design and construct upgrades to existing ranger accommodation at Fish River Station in the Northern Territory.

The Station employs Aboriginal rangers from the nearby Daly River community to manage and maintain cultural and natural heritage.

“The project aimed to improve the living conditions of the rangers by retrofitting existing structures to address the extreme climatic conditions of the Northern Territory,” says Design Construct Co-director, Joti Weijers-Coghlan.

One of the new buildings at Fish River.One of the new buildings at Fish River.

“This needed to include insect screening, improved privacy and passive design principles to avoid reliance on air conditioning systems.”

UniSA Masters of Architecture students developed a design for the project, following a consultation and site visit in 2016. The designs were then developed through the Masters of Architecture Program during 2017; with the final design proposal emerging through the Architectural Design Studio 7 last year, leading to a contract to undertake the building work on site this year.

Because of the remote location of the site, prefabrication work was undertaken at UniSA’s Mawson Lakes facility and then transported 3500km to Fish River for construction.

UniSA staff and students who worked on site on the Fish River project.UniSA staff and students who worked on site on the Fish River project.

“The scope of the work required every student to make a significant contribution to complete the building, working within a very limited timeframe,” Weijers-Coghlan says.

“Achieving the built outcome on time, on budget and to a professional standard of workmanship was not only a great outcome for our client but an amazing opportunity for students to see the direct outcome of their collective effort.”

Working on the project from start to finish, was Masters of Design and final year Masters of Architecture student Dylan Scott.

For Dylan, the hands-on construction experience was just one highlight.

“It was also a great opportunity to travel through Australia and see such incredible landscapes and landmarks while also engaging with Indigenous communities,” Dylan says.

“Being involved in the Design Construct Program has given me a broader understanding of the construction industry, not just of the design and documentation phase, but also surveying, product design, prefabrication, tool and workshop training; and onsite experience that most architecture students will never have.”

For Dylan and his fellow Masters of Architecture and Masters of Design student Josh Day, they have been involved with three Design Construct projects, each one providing valuable “out of the classroom” experience.

“Having been part of the Fish River project from its early stages right through to the final product, it has given me insight into the complete process of a build, much of which many architecture students only learn about inside a classroom,” Josh says.

“This project has also been a great learning experience not only in construction methods but material choices and the effects they might have on a project.

“It has been an amazing opportunity to be a part of a build which took place in such a remote location. Although the location and climate of the site caused some issues, it gave the team a chance to experience rural construction and the problems which can arise because of it.”

The two double degree students are now working on another ranger accommodation facility project with the Design Construct Program, this time in Nantawarrina in the Northern Flinders Rangers.

The latest project builds on the Design Construct Program’s reputation for taking on work in remote locations.

“One of the benefits of the program is that it offers students the opportunity to work in extremely remote Indigenous communities in Australia and overseas,” says Director of the Design Construct program, David Morris.

“For teachers, it’s very rewarding seeing the students work on a real project, especially those who work on it the whole way through.

“With the Fish River project, the gratitude expressed by the Indigenous Land Corporation upon completion was also extremely rewarding.

“To see their satisfaction with the outcome was very important to us; and for the students it reinforces the value of what they have helped to achieve.

“We were fortunate to be supported by many industry partners for the Fish River project who made it possible for us to deliver a commercially-competitive result to a very high standard. In particular, Stan Bond SA providing the Crimsafe screen wall system was a big help.”

The Fish River accommodation project is now being monitored for the next 12 months as part of a university-funded research project to identify the impact of the upgrades.

UniSA’s Design Construct Program is one of the largest student construction programs in the Australasia, offering unique, hands-on experience for students.