Embracing Indigenous Wisdom in Modern Architecture

I recently read Ben Wollen’s latest article in the February 2024 edition of The Illawarra Flame Article Here.  After reading Wollen’s insightful article, I contemplated what constitutes a modern indigenous architecture approach, particularly in the Illawarra region and what we do at Simpson & Co as residential builders who work with architects.

Sustainable Building Practices - Traditional Wisdom and Modern Innovations

Indigenous communities possess invaluable knowledge of sustainable building practices deeply rooted in their understanding of local ecosystems. At Simpson & Co, we recognise the relevance of this wisdom. By blending traditional materials and techniques with modern innovations like energy-efficient design and eco-friendly construction, we ensure that each project respects the environment and exemplifies our commitment to longevity and quality.

For example, in our home, in Thirroul, Illawarra, South Coast of NSW,  we chose locally sourced untreated hardwood cladding and combined this with super-insulated walls, floors and roof spaces.  Locally sourced untreated hardwood cladding, a green building material:

  • Promotes environmental friendliness.
  • Uses natural, chemical-free materials.
  • Sourced from local, sustainably managed forests.
  • Enhances durability and decay resistance.

Super-insulated walls, floors and roof spaces are one of the cheapest things you can do and have a high return on investment:

  • Enhances energy efficiency.
  • Improves thermal and acoustic comfort.
  • Contributes to the longevity of the home.
  • Supports the creation of a well-built home that ages gracefully.


By combining traditional wisdom with contemporary technology and innovations, we created a space that respects the Illawarra and South Coasts’ natural resources, embracing the latest advancements in sustainable design for a more resilient and environmentally conscious built environment.

Cultural Significance

Indigenous knowledge helps architects understand the cultural significance of specific design elements or spatial arrangements, both historically and today. This includes considerations such as the orientation of buildings to the sun or other celestial bodies, the placement of communal gathering spaces, or the incorporation of symbolic motifs or patterns into architectural features.

However, it’s equally important to recognise and respect the modern cultural significance defined by the people currently living in the area – whether born and raised or drawn to it by what makes it unique today. This involves time immersed and engaging within a diverse community to understand their unique perspectives, values, and aspirations and integrating these insights into the design process. By embracing the contemporary cultural fabric of a place alongside its historical roots, architects can create spaces that resonate with authenticity and meaning for all who inhabit it.

Understanding the cultural significance of architectural elements is paramount to our approach. At Simpson & Co, we embrace indigenous knowledge to create custom homes that resonate with authenticity and meaning for our clients. By honouring the historical roots and contemporary cultural fabric of the Illawarra region, our projects reflect the unique spirit of the South Coast, ensuring that each home we craft becomes a cherished legacy for generations to come.

Connection to the Land

Indigenous design often profoundly connects to the land and its natural features. This can influence decisions about site selection, building placement, and landscaping to minimise ecosystem disruption and preserve critical natural features like water sources or wildlife habitats.  Although traditional building practices historically prioritised survival and sustenance, our modern approach to land use often neglects these essential considerations.  There’s a common tendency to focus solely on the built environment when planning construction, overlooking the needs of the surrounding natural environment and its inhabitants.  This disregard for the well-being of flora and fauna not only threatens their survival but also poses risks to our own species in the long term.  However, considering the effects of climate change on the local landscape, there is a growing recognition of the importance of re-establishing and strengthening this connection.

“Architects can play a vital role by considering the contemporary relationship between communities and their environment, designing spaces that include nature and promoting sustainability, resilience, and land stewardship for future generations”.

By integrating modern environmental principles with traditional indigenous wisdom, architects can create buildings and landscapes that respect the past and respond to the urgent needs of the present and the challenges of the future.  As a family business, Thirroul and the Illawarra, NSW, is where we chose to base our residential construction business and raise a family.  Our deep connection to the Illawarra landscape informs every aspect of our decision-making.  We live here and want to ensure that we can be proud to have been a part of what we bring into the community.  A hope that it harmonises with the land and promotes sustainability for future generations.

Community Engagement - Building Stronger Neighbourhoods through Individual Choices

From the wisdom of indigenous community engagement practices of the past to the present day, the importance of considering how individual choices in design impact neighbours has remained a cornerstone of fostering a strong community. Indigenous communities have long understood the significance of collective decision-making and the interconnectedness of individuals within their surroundings. Today, as we navigate the complexities of modern urban living, this principle holds more than ever.

By drawing on this rich heritage of community engagement, architects can guide individuals to consider their preferences and the potential ripple effects on their neighbours. Factors like building height, setback distances, and landscaping can mitigate privacy concerns or overshadow neighbouring properties. When residents engage in dialogue and collectively envision a shared vision for their neighbourhood, it lays the groundwork for future relationships built on mutual respect and understanding. As architects, the role extends beyond designing buildings; they are stewards of community cohesion.

As residential architectural led building professionals located in the Illawarra, Southcoast of NSW , building stronger communities is at the heart of what we do at Simpson  & Co.  With a team focus, fostering meaningful engagement and collaboration with architects and clients, we empower individuals to shape the social fabric of their neighbourhoods.  Residents of Thirroul and its surrounding suburbs, South Coast, NSW are aware of its vibrant and unique character, marked by diversity and a strong sense of community focus; with communities becoming less connected, it’s worth recognising what a fabulous thing we have going on here.


Resilience and Adaptability - Honouring Traditional Wisdom in a Changing World

Indigenous knowledge has long emphasised principles of resilience and adaptability, recognising the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the environment. Traditional practices have sustained communities for generations to:

These principles remain as relevant as ever in today’s rapidly evolving world. Architects are increasingly turning to modern innovations to complement traditional wisdom, creating buildings and spaces that are resilient to environmental challenges and adaptable to evolving societal needs. For example, sustainable building technologies such as green roofs, rainwater harvesting systems, and passive solar design are integrated into contemporary architecture to reduce environmental impact and enhance energy efficiency.

“Resilience extends beyond physical structures to encompass social and economic resilience”.

Resilience extends beyond physical structures to encompass social and economic resilience. Community-centred design approaches prioritising inclusivity, diversity, and social cohesion are essential for building resilient communities capable of weathering the storms of change.  An exemplary initiative in this regard is the Electrify 2515 pilot program. Led by Dr Saul Griffith, local volunteers, and Rewiring Australia   this program aims to create Australia’s first all-electric suburb right here in 2515. What’s particularly inspiring about this program is its holistic approach, which addresses the needs of both the residential and business community.

By combining traditional indigenous knowledge with modern advancements, we can create spaces that honour the past and embrace the challenges and opportunities of the future. In doing so, we can build a sustainable and resilient environment that fosters a sense of connection, belonging, and collective empowerment for future generations.



“Combining traditional indigenous knowledge with modern advancements …build a sustainable and resilient environment that fosters a sense of connection, belonging, and collective empowerment for future generations”.


Reflecting on this, I realise that indigenous approaches to the built environment align closely with Simpson & Co’s foundational values of sustainability, resilience, and community well-being.  By blending traditional wisdom with modern innovations, we craft homes that pay homage to the rich history and diverse perspectives of the Illawarra region and anticipate and adapt to the evolving needs of the future. 

Our Commitment

Our commitment to constructing bespoke architectural solutions speaks to our dedication to creating havens where residents thrive and belong within the community. This realisation fills us with pride and reinforces our dedication to continuing this meaningful work. If you’re planning a project, we invite you to start a discussion.  Contact us today Mail@simpsoncoprojects.com.au or visit our Website Simpson & Co.