School of Architecture

Project Investigators (left to right)

Dr Bernard Baffour, ISSR, The University of Queensland.

Prof. Paul Memmott, Aboriginal Environments Research Centre (AERC), The University of Queensland.

Prof. Michele Haynes, Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), The University of Queensland.

Dr Timothy O’Rourke, AERC, The University of Queensland.

Research questions

Does design matter to Indigenous people when it comes to health service engagement, and how does design affect their decisions around accessing healthcare?

How and why are architects incorporating cross-cultural design factors in contemporary healthcare buildings that service high populations of Indigenous people?
What are Indigenous people’s perceptions of healthcare settings?
What is the importance of the setting in attracting or preventing Indigenous access health services?What are the design elements and strategies that improve Indigenous experiences of healthcare facilities?

Project description

The significance of cross-cultural design principles and practice is recognised for particular building types but poorly understood in healthcare architecture, despite the untenable state of Indigenous health. Preliminary evidence suggests that Indigenous people fail to present for health care until chronically ill, due to fear or dislike of health services and their settings. Across a range of institutional scales and healthcare settings, this research aims to understand how the design of particular settings affect Indigenous people’s perceptions, experience and use of hospitals and clinics. Developing innovative and adaptable research techniques, we aim to establish the planning principles and architectural qualities that lead to improved Indigenous healthcare participation, user experience and health outcomes, reducing the disparity in health for the most marginalised Australians.

This is a four year project that is due for completion in 2019.

Goal and aims

The goal of this research project is to improve the experience and use of healthcare architecture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Our aim is to identify the best design principles and practices through an analysis of existing clinics and hospitals and surveys of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander users.

Approach and Methodology

The research will follow a multidisciplinary approach combining mixed methods from architecture, sociology and anthropology. It will be carried out in five stages over a period of four years (see Table 1 below).

Stage 1: Review of architectural precedents and relevant national and international literature.

The project will collate, compare and analyse data on recent healthcare architecture in Australia, examining relationships between procurement (healthcare policy and building brief) and the as-built designs. It will focus on healthcare design in places with a high proportion of Indigenous users. A literature review will examine recent national and international theories and approaches to both cross-cultural and healthcare design to inform the development of the survey instruments and qualitative interview guides.

Stage 2: Detailed interviews with healthcare architects, administrators and service providers.

This stage includes architectural field investigations of selected healthcare facilities directly associated with a high proportion of Indigenous users. It will evaluate the buildings to provide an understanding of decision-making processes in relation to specific Indigenous cultural practices. The focus groups will be conducted with healthcare staff (especially Indigenous staff) on their experience and recommendations for improving Indigenous healthcare access. The data collated in this exercise will inform the surveys in the later stages.

Stage 3: Indigenous healthcare user survey developed and administered.

This survey tool will collect information on demographics, views and perceptions of the accessibility and attractiveness of current healthcare facilities. It will provide an overview of the infrastructure and design issues that are most relevant to Indigenous people. Additionally, participants will be shown photographs and digital designs of various architectural and behavioural settings and asked to provide preference rankings.

Stages 4 and 5: In-depth data collection and analysis

In the fourth stage a sub-sample of survey participants will be selected to collect more in-depth qualitative data on their design preferences for the architectural designs and behaviour setting features that will encourage attendance of healthcare settings by Indigenous people. Lastly, in the fifth stage, data analyses from the various stages will be brought together and the results will be disseminated.  

This is an Indigenous Design Place initiative. 

For further information please contact: Dr Tim O’Rourke.


Phone: +61 7 33653848