Stories of Designing and Building Intentional Communities in the Australian Counterculture

Way Out Down Under investigates, documents, records and helps to disseminate the lived experiences of creating countercultural communities in 1970s Australia.

This interdisciplinary research project combines architectural history and social documentary methods to enhance understanding of places where innovative models of more sustainable, empowering lifestyles were tested through collective architecture.

We aim to establish new historical knowledge about the designing and building of these communities, and identify the significance of these unconventional experiments in the development of Australian society and culture.

About Intentional Communities

Intentional communities are a form of countercultural communal living. There are sub-sets of intentional communities, such as communes, ecovillages, cooperatives and co-housing. The intentional communities we seek to investigate are generally those in which people live independently in their own homes, and emotional bonds are to family and partners rather than the communal group.

Recent research in the last decade  on intentional communities has expanded from what has historically been quantitative documentation of communities, to engage with more nuanced, ontological investigations into what makes or made an intentional community – what socio-political, economic, cultural, environmental, spiritual, historical or other factors influenced the forming of communities, the design (or lack thereof) of architecture, and the ways in which the architecture informed the culture of the community itself. This has been driven by a growing interest in affordable housing solutions (for example, the tiny house movement) since the Global Financial Crisis. Intentional communities have come under scrutiny  for their ability to provide (re)direction to mainstream housing provision.

There is a burgeoning research movement dedicated to providing more detailed field accounts of intentional communities. Though typologies of Australian intentional communities exist, the majority of typologies reference UK and US communities , and lack of “thick description”.

Australian literature on experimental architecture and intentional communities is sparse. It is intended that this proposed project, informed by recent research , will make a significant contribution to our understanding of Australian intentional communities and the history of their architecture and building practices.

This research project seeks to gain a deeper understanding of what it was like to live in an intentional community in Australia in the foundational years (1970s-mid- 80s); what influences (educational, sociological, religious, gender, environmental, etc.) contributed to the settling into intentional communities, the building of homes and community structures, and the associated politics that developed as inhabitants interacted within and outside of those spaces.

The participant pool will be original builders and occupiers of the original intentional communities from the above-mentioned era.

The findings of this research project are intended to contribute to the growing international field of counterculture research. It will give powerful insights into a transformational historical moment. Particularly, it will provide a unique Australian perspective about intentional communities, disseminating new knowledge of places and histories that have been secretive, remote, and little documented.

To get involved or find out more, contact us here.


Lee Stickells
Architectural Historian

Lee Stickells is Associate Professor in Architecture at the University of Sydney. His research is driven by an interest in how architecture is used as a means to reconsider the terms of social life – to shape other ways of living together. He has published widely across scholarly, professional and popular media, including in Fabrications, Architectural Theory Review, Architecture Australia, The Conversation and SL Magazine. He recently co-edited the book Sydney School: Formative Moments in Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney. Lee is a member of the SAHANZ editorial board, Architectural Theory Review editorial committee and Counterculture Studies International Advisory Board. Most often, though, he can be found riding bikes.

Heather Faulkner
Documentary Storyteller

Heather Faulkner is a senior lecturer in Documentary Photography at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University. Her research is concerned with spatial politics and the ensuing synergetic themes of identity, place and belonging. She is the author of the book, North of the Border: Stories from the A Matter of Time Project (UWAP 2016) and co-author of Living Heritage: The Artists of Cambodian Chapei (2018). Her work has been exhibited and published widely in her 20+ year career as a documentary photographer and photojournalist. Websites: Heather Faulkner Transmedia & A Matter of Time Project