Architectural Heritage Centre


Ethnologists have studied the people of the country, lingquiests have concerned themselves with languages groupings, but until the Department of Architecture and Building at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology initiated its surveys, no systematic work had been done to record the architectural styles of ceremonial and dwelling houses throughout the country.

The aim of “The Architectural Heritage Centre of Papua New Guinea” is to preserve the wealth of traditions, skills and talents displayed in the buildings built by the fathers, grandfathers and ancestors of the young people of present-day Papua New Guinea. The Centre will preserve knowledge of the remarkable diversity of architectural forms, astutely adapted to local conditions, using only a limited repertoire of available materials.

Of the Initiative to establish the Architectural Heritage Centre of Papua New Guinea, The a previous Vice-Chancellor of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology has said, “This reflects PNG cultural conservation values, possess considerable intellectual and academic merit, and acknowledges the global judgement of PNG’s architectural heritage as being pure gold”.


IN 1979, a South Pacific Commission-UNESCO Symposium on “The Preservation of Traditional Living Art in Oceania” incorporated several proposals, including;

RECOMMENDATION 5: “That Governments and administrations in the region (Oceania) be encouraged to establish proper technological facilities for the conservation of the arts of Oceania.”

This statement reflected a world-wide concern for the preservation and documentation of art forms rapidly changing and/or disappearing in many developing nations around the world.

There is large scale awakening of interest in the recording of the world’s many vernacular building traditions. This phenomenon is being stimulated, in part, by a recognition of the great beauty of traditional building and, in part, as a reaction to the gross depletion in the stock of the world’s architectural heritage. The world is being made poorer as each tradition dies out, a process of extinction which can be likened to the environmental degradation of the planet by diminishing the global gene pool.

Because of its ephemeral nature and the tremendous social and economic transformations taking place in the country, the traditional architecture of Papua New Guinea is under severe threat. Recognising this situation, A Village Studies Program was initiated in the Department of Architecture and Building at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology in 1972 by the then Head of Department, Professor Neville Quarry. The concept was to survey and record the art and architecture of each of the 19 provinces of Paua New Guinea. Over the years many people have contributed to the Program, including Ms. Janet Grey and Messrs Gordon Holden, Ken Costigan, the late Jack Lowson, Rod Hull, Shogo Nishikawa, George Loupis and the current Head of Department Professor Rahim Milani. By far the greatest contribution has been made by Professor Wallace (Mac) Ruff and his late wife Ruth, who have collected a large amount of data on villages in Sepik, Sandaun and Gulf Provinces.

The collection of their work known as the Ruff Collection, covers a period from 1968-92 and comprises over 8000 black and white prints; 12000 black and white negatives; 900 colour prints; 4500 colour negatives; 10 hard-cover sketch books; 12 field note books (from 1968 to 1992); 80 large scale drawings; 1000 small scale drawings; and 400 abstract drawings.

It is important to realize that of the buildings recorded by Professor Ruff, 95% have disappeared without being replaced, leaving the Ruff Collection as the only recorded source of knowledge of these structures.

Sadly, due to lack of resources, very little of this work has been published and information collected has yet to be catalogued in a systematic way to make it accessible to the public and scholars. More importantly, much field work needs to be done to ensure all remaining examples of traditional architecture and oral information about the buildings are recorded before it is too late.


Professor Wallace Ruff

Professor Wallace Ruff has a long and distinguished career in teaching and research. His teaching career started soon after he completed his studies in landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkley, in 1948. He has won numerous awards for his architectural and landscape designs. In 1974 he began his long association with the department of Architecture and Building at the PNG University of Technology.

The Ruff Collection was collected by Wallace and his late wife, Ruth, over twelve years of research and work in Papua New Guinea. Beginning in 1958, the Ruff’s used their summer breaks and sabbatical leaves to collect artefacts, photographs villages and ceremonial houses and conduct research in the villages of PNG.

Professor Ruff’s great concern is that he architectural heritage of his country will disappear as it has in other developing countries. To preserve this heritage Professor Ruff is giving of his knowledge, his vast collection of material and his time to establish “The Architectural Heritage Centre of Papua New Guinea.”

Mack Ruff’s Village Studies Project is a substantial collection of thousands of items including photographs, negatives, drawings, notes and text.

The Village Studies Project case studies documented after 1975 are housed in the Architectural Heritage Centre of Papua New Guinea, established by Professor Wallace M Ruff (known as Mack Ruff) who significantly expanded upon the earlier work.

Most of the pre Ruff early work is yet to be deposited with the collection. However until the missing work is developed, presented, published and critically reviewed, its contribution to Papua New Guinea architecture heritage remains largely untested.

Due to lack of resources very little of the work required to develop the Centre has been undertaken. Although a vast amount of material has been collected, the Centre has not had the funds to catalogue and archive the material. A permanent home for the Centre has been found in the Department of Architecture and Building for this purpose. Professor Ruff was personally meeting the cost of outfitting the Centre.

Since Professor Ruff’s untimely death, the incumbent Heads of the Department since continued these village study surveys with fourth and fifth year students,

drawing traditional buildings and writing reports thus depositing such data

into the Architecture Heritage Centre. The village studies projects carried out by students and staff of the department was seen as the best approach to fast track the collection of data on traditional buildings. The collection of data on the subject somewhat slowed down in recent years, due to frequent departure of certain interested academics from Papua New Guinea when their tenure end after every three years.

Establishment of Architectural Heritage Centre

When the Council of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology approved the establishment of the Heritage Centre in 1994, it superseded the Ruff Personal Collection. At the time of its inauguration, the Centre was seen as having a number of purposes as follow:
“To establish a comprehensive collection of traditional buildings and settlement patterns of all cultural regions within Papua New Guinea and conserve this knowledge for future generations” (Ruff, 1994)
“To make information on traditional building culture of Papua New Guinea accessible locally and internationally through a number of methods seemingly outdated now in this digital age.” (Ruff, 1994).

The AHC now has its own constitution and board. It is entrusted with:

  • archiving the records of the architectural heritages of Papua New Guinea
  • undertaking recording and research work on those heritages
  • promoting the awareness and understanding of the value of those heritages

The Architectural Heritage Centre of Papua New Guinea was established in 1994 as a research arm of the Department of Architecture and Building under the direction of a Board of Management. Its aim is to:

  • accelerate and expand the range of research done
  • to insure that the data collected, is properly catalogued
  • to publish the results of research in monographs, books, or in CD format

The mission of the Architectural Heritage Centre of Papua New Guinea is to collect, conserve and promote, for the benefit of future generations, knowledge of traditional and other forms of architecture that are important for cultural and historic reasons.

In fulfilment of its mission the Centre seeks these outcomes:

  • support of research by national and international scholars into all forms of indigenous and other important heritage architecture
  • establishment of a permanent and secure archive for materials collected from local and overseas sources
  • publishing of selected research findings in journals, monographs, and books
  • stimulation of professional and public interest in heritage architecture by contributing to education programs and dissemination of educational material, and through participation in seminars and conferences
  • cooperative relationships with other national and international institutions with similar purposes
  • development and maintenance of a representative collection of traditional building components and full-sized buildings
  • encouragement of in-situ preservation of significant examples of traditional architecture
  • Fostering of the development of sustainable and culturally, environmentally, and economically appropriate forms of contemporary architecture.

Value to Architectural Education

The Architectural Heritage Centre of Papua New Guinea is a unique research facility in the Pacific region. In 2000 the Validation Board of the Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) visited the Department of Architecture and Building to inspect its programs as part of the process of international validation of its courses. In its report the CAA visiting panel made special note of the value of the Architectural Heritage Centre, citing its collection as “unique in the world” and stating that it “must not be allowed to deteriorate through inadequate resources”, and that it could be used to strengthen the research profile for the Department.

A base for on-going, post-graduate research by both national and international scholars could be established at the AHC, but would require improvements to, and enlargement of, facilities —including improving the archival and accessibility standards of the collection. Substantial funds are needed to do such improvements, and then to staff, run, and maintain them.

The Collection

The centre has a collection of books and other documents on the traditional architecture of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and other related material. Much of the material on architecture is in books in the fields of anthropology, explorations, travel and Pacific arts, and so on.

Material has been produced at the centre since 1972, particularly by ‘Mac’ Ruff and through the Village Studies project in the Architecture and Building Department. “The Ruff Collection alone (work done from 1968-1992) comprises over 8000 black and white prints; 12000 black and white negatives; 900 colour prints; 4500 colour negatives; 10 hard cover sketch books; 12 field note books … 80 large scale drawings; 1000 small scale drawings; and 400 abstract drawings.” The Architectural Heritage Centre of Papua New Guinea p.2. Posters and cards can be purchased from the Centre and there are a limited number of books available for sale.

There is a rich amount of material held that is now being catalogued and some is being digitally recorded. The material awaits proper research analysis and preparation for its wider dissemination. The material, in addition to that itemized above, includes surveys, sketch books, draft compilations of graphic material and field notes on the architectures of the Sepik and Ramu rivers; the Abelam and the Murik Lakes areas in the East Sepik Province; the Gogodala in the Western Province, and the Purari Delta in the Gulf Province. There is other material with less detail on parts of the Highlands, and on some other parts of PNG and reports on investigation projects done by students.

The Architecture Heritage Centre Digital Project

Being equally aware of the fast disappearance of traditional building culture and u

nder the Board of Management, the Architecture Heritage Centre embarked upon the digital project in 2006.


  • To facilitate the alignment of the Architecture Heritage Collection with time as humanity moves into the digital age.
  • To preserve the information knowledge contain in the collection on traditional built forms and especially, architecture, buildings, arts, culture and other related areas for use by future generations.
  • To provide fast and easy access to information from the collection to interested users both locally, and internationally.
  • To facilitate research by a wider audience through the Internet Search Engine.
  • To organize the information knowledge into a databank that can be continuously and easily accessed by interested academic institutions and individuals.


Department of Architecture & Building’s mission is to Conduct research and development work to promote environmentally, culturally and economically sustainable forms of tropical architecture and building, conservation of architectural heritages, beneficial utilisation of local natural resources, and advance the creative, technical and entrepreneurial talents of indigenous architects and building managers.

Research priorities are closely aligned with the Department’s mission with a major effort being centred on the preparation of a comprehensive survey of traditional architecture under the auspices of The Papua New Guinea Architectural Heritage Centre.

Other research projects focus on the development and promotion of contemporary architectural forms in response to local cultures and climatic conditions; locally produced building materials; grass roots tourist accommodation; management procedures for national building contractors; and investigations of appropriate housing solutions for the poor.

The Centre has identified the following projects as having priority:

  • a digital archive of all materials collected to date
  • a major high-quality exhibition publication of selected materials from the collection in monograph form, and as an encyclopedia of the traditional architecture of PNG, and/or on CD ROM and/or the WWW
  • a collection of a selection of full-size building artefacts
  • construction of a permanent heritage village comprising a selection of significant building types
  • a web site with the main aims of: dissemination of information on the richness of this PNG Heritage resource, participation in international discourses in the area indigenous cultures, the electronic sale possibilities for downloadable digital material