Since 2009, the Nyul Nyul Community of the Kimberley region of Western Australia has sustainably wild harvested Indigenous foods like the gubinge, a superfood that has the highest source of vitamin C on the planet. When frozen, it can be dehydrated and milled into a mixable powder, which community members sell to the likes of chocolatiers and cosmetics companies.
More recently, on the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome, harvesters installed a prefabricated shed structure that has allowed them to streamline their operations. Instead of transporting produce off-site for sorting, cleaning, and processing, the Nyul Nyul can perform those same procedures on location using the shed, increasing efficiency under improved working conditions.
SJB Architects, a firm with Sydney- and Melbourne-based practices, designed the shed in collaboration with Bruno Dann, a Nyul Nyul elder and traditional owner (a custodian of the land), as well as the Orana Foundation, an organization promoting and protecting Australia’s Indigenous food culture.
The architects at SJB spent a decade working with Dann and his business partner, Marion Louis Manson, visiting the site in Western Australia and learning more about the community’s needs and its relationship with the land.
"By staying on country with the traditional owners, the project team was able to develop an understanding of the environmental conditions the packing shed would need to withstand," says the firm. Those conditions, among others, include monsoons and termites. With hot and humid weather, the harvesters needed cover, shade, and ventilation, as well as protection from rain and cyclonic winds.
To fend off pests, SJB built the structure primarily of termite-resistant timber, using laminated-veneer lumber and plywood in conjunction with native hardwood dowels. But the use of timber was also a statement.
"In protest of the disruptive impact of the mining industry, the use of any metals has been kept to a minimum including connection details for beams, column, and sheets," says the firm. "Furthermore, the shed can be erected in seven days, and when disassembled, leaves no trace out of respect for the land."
Beyond the produce it stores, the shed packs a punch in efficiency. In a single day, hydro panels fixed to the structure turn humidity from the air into 20 liters of drinkable water, which is used in part for washing harvests. Attached solar panels power freezers for storing food prior to transport.
"[The Packing Shed] has resulted in grade-A fruit now being consistently produced, resulting in less waste, higher yields, and a higher market value that’s being passed on to the harvesters," says the Orana Foundation, reflecting on the shed’s first year in use.
This year, the shed received a Good Design Award in the social impact category. "[It is] in itself is a very powerful symbol for frugal and context appropriate design," said the judges. "It is a scalable and effective solution and makes the case for design supporting creative decisions for people and planet."
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