University of Melbourne Magazine

Grand designs

  • Jefa Greenway (BPD(Arch) 1997, BArch(Hons) 1999)

    Jefa Greenway (BPD(Arch) 1997, BArch(Hons) 1999) Picture: Simon Schulter

    “Too often architects are not political enough – too few operate in the realm of activism and advocacy” 

    Jefa Greenaway’s career encompasses an impressive range of activities – he is a practising architect, a teacher, an advocate, activist and organiser. Running through all of this is a clear desire to make a difference.

    This might be done at the private scale of a house alteration or by consulting on Indigenous culture and heritage for larger projects or urban design frameworks. It might be about enabling students to explore what architecture could contribute to Indigenous communities, or encouraging Indigenous students to consider architecture as a career, or advocating within the profession to help bring Indigenous perspectives into the work of other architects.

    Much of this work involves exchanges between different groups and modes of knowledge. For example, Greenaway believes in the value of architecture and is interested in how the discipline can contribute more fully to Indigenous Australia. But this is not a one-way proposition. He is also committed to expressing and exploring the ways that Indigenous approaches might impact on the rethinking of the profession.

    As the first Indigenous registered architect in Victoria, Greenaway joins a small cohort of Indigenous architects nationwide and he embraces the opportunities and obligations that come with this.

    He has a strong interest in exploring the possibilities of Indigenous place-making and to “strengthening culture and design in the built environment” and is highly articulate about the opportunities this can bring at both pragmatic and conceptual levels.

    This is not just about making buildings as objects, but about developing a broader conception of place in relation to the environment and landscape. Again he sees that this can be investigated and implemented though diverse means.

    These include education “as a means of empowerment and emancipation”, but also conventional planning tools such as heritage overlays, which can be used to make Indigenous knowledge available while also acknowledging that not all Aboriginal knowledge can or should be given.

    Greenaway, the son of an Aboriginal activist who campaigned for the 1967 referendum, studied politics prior to architecture. He sees synergies between politics, planning and architecture.

    “Too often architects are not political enough – too few operate in the realm of activism and advocacy,” he says.

    One important project is Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria (IADV), which he founded with Rueben Berg. This provides support and advice “on all aspects of architecture related to Aboriginal people in Victoria”.

    The IADV website ( is a significant resource hub and includes guidance for other architects about how to become more engaged with Indigenous communities along with information for Indigenous people interested in becoming architects.

    – Justine Clark