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Jefa Greenaway, Greenaway Architects, Director

As an architect, designer, teacher, commentator, mentor, curator and cultural advocate, Jefa Greenway has spent three decades giving back. Balancing multiple projects and responsibilities is his superpower. He describes himself as being curious, impatient, inquisitive and cerebral, always wanting to see things move and evolve. With an inability to stay idle, Jefa feels a strong sense of obligation to pass on knowledge. For him, the best way to communicate through design is to showcase actual work, demonstrating examples of how to navigate design through real-life and often deeply personal anecdotes that explain complex ideas.

A Wailwan/Kamilaroi man, Jefa is proud to be an honorary Victorian, having moved here from NSW when he was ten years old. He credits the State with being design savvy and sophisticated, with a distinct appetite for cultural interpretation. Here, local designers stimulate ideas, push boundaries and are immersed in the culture of design. With a committed interest in sustainability and connection to Country, Jefa’s view is that designers have an obligation to look at how projects are aligning to sustainability and navigate those dimensions as a normative part of the design process. He seeks to amplify opportunities to embed First Peoples’ knowledge systems within both practice and academia.

Great architectural design stems from our ability to communicate complex ideas clearly and concisely

Jefa is strongly influenced and inspired by other creative modes, from weaving to dance, industrial to fashion. These allied disciplines are all inextricably linked to his design thought process. Learning from a pool of talented and creative minds, he is often inspired by different fields of practice that seed his own architectural expression.

He believes that we’ve come to an interesting tipping point where we’re embracing the cultural dimension of design practice. We’re experiencing a renaissance in cultural responsiveness within contemporary design, interrogating the authenticity of place, acknowledging our levels of history and memory.

“Architecture is one of the strongest forms of cultural expression — infused with a sense of self. It enables us to embed our ethical and social responsibilities and sensibilities into our ways of working.”

Upcoming projects layered with storytelling and connection to Country

While projects like the Yarra Building (Koorie Heritage Trust) in Federation Square and RMIT University’s Ngarara Place have earned him widespread accolades, including being inducted into the Design Institute of Australia’s Hall of Fame, Jefa is focused on the future. He believes that the most interesting projects are those that are coming up next and others that haven’t even been conceptualised. Jefa is currently immersed in several significant and potentially iconic architectural design projects in Melbourne.

He’s working on three bridges for Parks Victoria which fuse architecture, landscape architecture and engineering together in one bold design that will anchor a relationship with Country. Working with the Wurundjeri is a compelling proposition for him— being able to walk, see and hear Country.

The bridges sit within an ecosystem of a 26-kilometre cultural trail featuring distinctive markers in the landscape that connect to Country. Jefa considers this a touchstone project layered with meaning that goes beyond simple aesthetics and steeped in storytelling.

He has also spent the past three years collaborating on the Victoria’s largest road infrastructure initiative, the North East Link project. It’s a powerful reminder of how we can embed cultural and historical connection into a project of this scale, collaborating within a broader team with many voices and skills.

With the upcoming Hobsons Bay Wetlands Centre, Jefa is working within a fragile ecosystem to further understand the importance of biodiversity and the role of ecologies and hydrological systems. Transforming a degraded landscape into a place for knowledge exchange will involve a design process with multiple layers of interconnected interpretation.

Design equity and empowering First Peoples voices

As a champion of First Peoples-led design thinking, Jefa co-authored the acclaimed International Indigenous Design Charter, a seminal work that sets the benchmark for responsive and inclusive global design. It challenges assumptions and ways of working, stepping through a robust methodology that empowers First Peoples voices and agencies towards culturally responsive design practice. Recognised by the International Council of Design, the Charter is instrumental in giving designers and First Peoples practitioners worldwide a blueprint for best practice.

As a multi-faceted community, Jefa sees Victoria as a progressive state where there is a genuine interest in having real conversations about the role of First Peoples communities. With a First Peoples Assembly, a Truth and Justice Commission and State Government legislated action towards Treaty, we’re ahead of the curve. In his opinion, even a decade ago, something like the International Indigenous Design Charter could not have resonated in the same way.

“Now we’re in a position to reimagine our future with an opportunity to embrace all perspectives and knowledge systems in design practice. With Treaty on the horizon, design practice needs to adapt and change to meet the new reality and establish foundations for the future built on the lessons of the past. The Charter is well placed to support that.”

However, there is still an embedded tension around First Peoples design. For Jefa, Aboriginal heritage was not the pathway to design success — it was 30 years of persistence and diligence. Achieving full design equity – how we embrace our shared humanity and diversity and ensure that many voices shape the built environment and other design disciplines — is the ultimate goal.

“Sometimes we have an elitist view on design, especially when access to tertiary qualifications seems to be the way our designers are recognised. In the past we may not have acknowledged wider design excellence, but design equity allows us to embrace the broader sense of who we are and understand that we all have a voice and potential to become contributors.”

“Design shapes, makes and creates everything we use. Flying under the radar, a new cohort of designers is starting to have its voice, with technology and social media enabling it to disseminate. In the hand of First Nations people, we can actually delve deeper into a sense of self in terms of layers of history and memory.”

“Culturally we are all designers – expressing ourselves through all creative modes, outside the realm formal qualifications. There is great wisdom in 67,000 years of continuous connection.”

The cachet of the Victorian Premier’s Design Awards

A recipient of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Design Strategy Award, Jefa recognises the significance of receiving such an honour. The Awards demonstrate that design, across a broad range of disciplines, is highly valued in Victoria and there’s cachet by virtue of it being a Government-endorsed program. Being an award winner signals to potential clients and those who procure design services that you’re a competent and worthy practitioner to engage. It also reinforces the depth of thinking and hard work that went into delivering a project and acknowledges the clients and funders who play an integral role in realising the outcomes.

The next Victorian Premier’s Design Awards winners will be announced in March 2023.