Architecture, Building and Planning academic honoured by Rio Tinto

August 12 / 92

Dr David O'Brien standing in front of one of the Bower Studio projects
Dr David O'Brien standing in front of one of the Bower Studio projects

Dr David O'Brien, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, was presented with the Rio Tinto Award for Excellence and Innovation in Indigenous Higher Education 2012 at a special ceremony on Friday 27 July.

The annual award, sponsored by Rio Tinto Australia, recognises and promotes high quality teaching, curriculum and community engagement activities that enhance the capacity of University graduates to contribute to Indigenous development.

Dr O'Brien was selected for his contribution through the Bower Studio, a series of projects that contribute to improving housing outcomes for Indigenous communities in Australia and abroad.

Together with the Bower team, which includes Melbourne School of Design (MSD) students, Dr O'Brien gives students a chance to address real problems in a practical way.

The teams consult with local Indigenous communities to develop custom-built facilities to improve the standards of living for those living in remote townships.

Dr O'Brien said the most important outcome of each project was giving Indigenous communities the skills and confidence to improve their own infrastructure and community programs.

"Marginalised communities are not enabled to make decisions about their environments and their housing. The process of talking, designing and then building together opens up opportunities for a useful dialogue which then enriches the ideas, processes and outcomes," he said.

Professor Richard James, Pro-Vice Chancellor Participation and Engagement, praised Dr O'Brien's teaching and mentorship.

"When we read the students' statements, we understand how involvement in the Bower Studio has been career changing, and even life changing, for the students involved," he said.

"Students speak of the practical skills they learned and friendships formed, but also of a new understanding of Indigenous Australia and of the lives of Indigenous Australians they will take into their future careers.

"David O'Brien is to be congratulated for developing and delivering such a program over many years, and for involving a wide range of community and corporate partners in order to help support it. The Rio Award is a well deserved accolade for this excellent program."

The awards ceremony brought to a close a four-day exhibition of the Bower Studio in the Atrium of the Architecture Building. The exhibition displayed images, designs and explanations of Bower Studio projects undertaken by MSD students over the past five years.

The Rio Tinto Award is an initiative of the foundation corporate partnership between Murrup Barak Institute for Indigenous Development and Rio Tinto Australia

For more information about the Bower Studio, visit

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