Town Camp Architecture Studio

Case Studies


University of Newcastle and Tangentyere Council Aboriginal Corporation


  • Creative Industries
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Model/s of WIL activity:

  • Case studies
  • Industry/community based projects
  • Research activities
  • Site visits
  • Study tours

Level the activity is delivered:


Town Camp Architecture Studio

Architecture students working with Aboriginal communities in the Town Camps of Mparntwe (Alice Springs).

Running as an intensive WIL activity over two weeks, the course offers architecture students a unique experience to work with Aboriginal communities in Mparntwe (Alice Springs), listen to their stories, appreciate their Country, and to appreciate some of the complexities and ways of living in Town Camps. Utilising a Public Participation pedagogy, students take part in Local Decision Making (LDM) meetings with the communities, designing and documenting housing and infrastructure projects for government funding. As the potential of our collaboration continues to develop, and projects are funded and constructed, the student experience has become an integral part of the journey.

Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation

Six years – The course has run every year for two weeks in June since 2016.

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

The WIL activity engages students with a unique form of urban development within Australia; the Town Camps of Mparntwe embody; a First Nation form of urbanism and Country, colonial policies of inequity and dispossession, and a disparate public and community infrastructure that reflects the inadequate and ever-changing funding landscape it has been open to. While these issues continue, the LDM agreement operating between the Northern Territory Government (NTG) and TCAC provided an opportunity for a mutually beneficial WIL collaboration to be established between architectural academics and students at UON, and TCAC. Architecture students directly address Town Camp communities needs to design and document housing and infrastructure projects for funding, a process other places in Australia take for granted. Conceiving an innovative pedagogy involving the graphic mapping of verbal discussions – translating community discussions and issues into architectural projects – documents the community’s self-determined future. Student learning is engaged though active listening, a cross-cultural setting, the professional requirements of a practice-based reality, and an awareness that their knowledge and skills are being applied to situations where they are needed, but lacking, due to the limited finances communities have to support it. Working in small groups, typically found in architectural practice, the inclusive process of public participatory design identifies both the deficiencies and potential of housing and community infrastructure. As local knowledge is embedded within these practices, so too are issues of health, accessibility, safety and a changing climate embedded within the projects developed for government funding.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

The primary role of the WIL collaboration is to benefit the Aboriginal communities of the Town Camps, whose residents live in unacceptable and unsafe conditions, with restricted access to adequate housing, health, education and employment opportunities. Students benefit from engaging and designing with these important issues, and from the insights TCAC brings to the role architectural knowledge might play in improving this. The university benefits from the higher skill level the students possess, and their greater awareness of how social justice effects the places we live. The profession benefits through the innovation of architectural technique embodied within the pedagogy.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

The methodology invites a sharing of opinions between residents about the future of the Town Camp that might otherwise not have been openly discussed. The ongoing nature of LDM meetings, where a community is visited many times to discuss proposals as they’re translated into projects, continues to have high levels of community support. This process of evaluation has refined the method, and students are important participants in this. An ongoing challenge however is to consciously work between two cultures, translating locally defined issues into proposals government agencies can understand. Academically, the course engages proactively with feedback, with students who have previously undertaken the course also briefing students before they leave.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?

Since 2016, 108 students have completed the course, with twelve projects from community centre upgrades through to the provision of bollards, have been funded and constructed (around $600,000 in value), while others have been integrated more broadly into TCAC funding proposals, and await funding. Projects like these have significant longer term impacts on the well-being of communities, particularly as many of the projects have benefits with generational timelines. Architectural projects have been professionally recognised, research grants established, and participating students have become successful alumni, some employed in practices and agencies related closely to the nature of this work. A student (Emma Gaal) who completed the course in 2018, commented in a radio interview that the course “exposed us to places that architects rarely go…it’s an experience that all architecture students should have.”   

How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula? Include how it incorporates the preparation, implementation and reflection/debriefing phases of WIL.

The WIL course is a popular elective offering within the architecture programs. While only 16 students can participate at any one time, the mix of skills and background has become an important characteristic of learning within the course. In preparation, Aboriginal researchers from Tangentyere visit Newcastle to conduct cultural awareness workshops before students depart for Alice Springs. The team making this application supports the students with 12 hours of lectures, discussion and tutorial sessions over an 8 week period before students travel to Alice Springs. Assessment requires a reflective journal to be prepared by each student documenting each day of their stay, a presentation to the communities from each group of four concerning their design project outcomes (see a filming of this in 2019, it provides an excellent overview of the work undertaken by students in this WIL course –, and the organisation of a public exhibition on the final day in Mparntwe.

Describe how the case study is informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship.

The course utilises Public Participation Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS) methods to engage communities within an LDM framework. Constructive community discussion has been made possible through the cultural-awareness knowledge, and strong relationship, TCAC has with these communities. A more detailed explanation of the context and theoretical basis of the pedagogy can be found in these two papers; Mapping Resilience in the Town Camps of Mparntwe (Tucker et al., 2022) and, Integrating Indigenous, and Western and inclusive pedagogies for work-integrated learning partnerships in architecture and design disciplines (Gajendran et al., 2022).

What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

The architectural work the students undertake is always with projects that have been identified with the highest priority, and this will continue. Similarly, the diversity of these projects exposes students to people with backgrounds, skills and knowledge beyond architecture, and this uncommon feature of tertiary education is highly valued by students. With six years of research and project work behind us, we have constructively built on that work, and will soon publish a Guide to Housing and Infrastructure in the Town Camps. We hope to use this to further stimulate discussion about the future of the Town Camps.


Lowery, D.R., & Morse, W.C. (2013). A Qualitative Method for Collecting Spatial Data on Important Places for Recreation, Livelihoods, and Ecological Meanings: Integrating Focus Groups with Public Participation Geographic Information Systems. Society & Natural Resources,. 26, 1422–1437.

Gajendran, T., Tucker, C., Ware, S., & Tose, H. (2022) Integrating Indigenous, Western and inclusive pedagogies for work-integrated learning partnerships in architecture and design disciplines. International Journal of Work0Integrated Learning, 23, 259–277. 

Tucker, C.., Klerck, M., & Flouris, A. (2022). Mapping Resilience in the Town Camps of Mparntwe. Architecture, 2, 446-456.

Case Study Team Members

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Dr Chris Tucker

University of Newcastle

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Michael Klerck

Tangentyere Council

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Denise Foster

Tangentyere Council

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Anna Flouris

Tangentyere Council

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Vanessa Napaltjarri Davis

Tangentyere Council