Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

This is Australia’s leading centre for the research of our early Australian peoples.

AIATSIS is located on Ngunnawal, Ngambri and Ngunawal Country.

AIATSIS shares Canberra’s Acton Peninsula with the National Museum of Australia, and we designed the two concurrently. The building and its courtyard face spectacular views of Lake Burley Griffin and the Brindabellas, rather than the Acton Peninsula’s public driveway. Outside AIATSIS, we introduced an axis to Uluru. This is in the spirit of Burley Griffin’s Canberra masterplan, in which significant streets are axes pointing in the directions of various Australian locations. Our Uluru axis is a red footpath that loops skyward at the south-western end into the Boolean string design concept that is integral to the neighbouring Museum’s architecture.


Our client sought a building that would represent the ongoing nature of Indigenous culture, and AIATSIS’s role as a sophisticated learning institution. In our design presentations to AIATSIS, we referred to the one-time Bank building in Gertrude Street Fitzroy (1880), dramatically painted in the colours of the Aboriginal flag as an inspiration, as the idea of occupation. The AIATSIS board shared our thinking. What they vehemently did not want was the humpy-style so-called Aboriginal Architecture considered appropriate at the time.

Accordingly, ARM designed a black Villa Savoye (referencing the 1930 Paris building by Le Corbusier) as an understanding of a local version—an inversion, a reflection of Aboriginal architecture, culture or perceived attitudes. This idea reflected AIATSIS’s philosophy and produced a building compatible with the National Museum of Australia, yet distinct and independent.

American artist Amie Siegel made a short film about the relationship between AIATSIS and the Villa Savoye. Double Negative (2015) shows identical shots of the buildings in negative images, reversing dark and light. ARM Director Howard Raggatt discusses the thinking behind both works: the film and AIATSIS.