instagram linkedin
Related People

Enduring Architecture: Sails in the Desert Takes Home National Award

The 1984 project Sails in the Desert at Ayers Rock Resort (formerly known as Yulara) was undertaken by COX with a vision to create a cohesive township and sustainable visitor precinct near Uluru. This project, which took home the NT Enduring Architecture award in June of this year, inspired a new archetype for Australian architecture.

Last night, it was celebrated for it’s lasting impression on Australian architecture once more – honoured with the National Award for Enduring Architecture at the AIA’s National Awards.


Yulara required a range of accommodation to be built. The architects arranged varying accommodation along a raised circulation spine which follows the natural contour of the site. Originally, the design saw staff residences sit in the heart of the project between two hotels. But, as demand for accommodation grew, these residences were pushed into what Philip Cox called ‘Yulara 2,’ sitting at the end of the township.

Yulara didn’t stop at developing accommodation, the project also created infrastructure to support the community. This included school buildings, and tourism related retail stores and service stations. Key to the project was consultation with the local Indigenous community, some who came to live and work in the facility. Although seemingly an obvious choice, in the 80s, this approach was unique.

In its citation for the project, the national jury said, ‘Many aspects of the architecture, from colour to materials and urban form, speak of Cox’s ambition to develop a tangible form of contemporary Australian architectural expression. As a whole, the township was designed to respond to the climate, with careful consideration given to orientation, shade and prevailing breezes. In a location where large shade trees struggle to survive, elegant and innovative shade structures were developed.’

AIA National Jury Citation

Sails in the Desert is both of its time and timeless. Its enduring appeal demonstrates its capacity to capture the essence of an Australian vernacular, responding sensitively to the cultural, climatic and social conditions of the place. It was, and is, an iconic settlement in the service of one of our most important cultural and spiritual sites.

Sails in the Desert is located in Yulara, Northern Territory, and is built on the land of the Yankunyjatjara people.

Project Team: Philip Cox, John Richardson, Hank Den-Ouden, Quentin Parker, Russell Lee, Tim Jefferies, Roger Barrett, Robert Grubb, Andre Ceprinski, John Louden, Norman Keshan, Dirk Collins