Location: Point Cook
Function: Community Centre
Structural Engineer: Kersulting
Architect: Croxon Ramsay
Bricklayer: Lawler Bricklaying
Client: City of Wyndham
Commissioned Artist: Louise Lavarack
Photography: Diana Snape
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Community is a term that means different things to different people. Fundamentally, it’s about how we create space, and for what purpose. Togetherness? Places in which to live and work. Places where the use of space should be artful, intelligent, and eminently practical. Spaces where you can be alone – or together withothers, depending on the mood and the occasion.
In good measure the Melbourne architectural practice, Croxon Ramsay, has succeeded in designing a facility that builds neighbourhood capacity, a case in point being the Saltwater Community Centre at Point Cook, which lies within the City of Wyndham on Melbourne’s outer west. One of Victoria’s largest growing municipalities, Wyndham’s population is booming, having more than doubled since 2006. To accommodate this phenomenal expansion, the city had good reason to build 10 community centres over a ten-year period, Saltwater being the most recent.
For Croxon Ramsay, it was an opportunity to become involved in a ‘pilot case’ for a local municipal authority wanting to cut loose from archetypal designs so typical of many recently built community centres on Melbourne’s periphery. With the Saltwater location in mind, the how, where and what of design were questions they sought to answer.
Context is always a useful starting point for an architect. Considerations such as: the topography of the land, vegetation, existing buildings (if any) and the much wider curtilage that lies just around the corner or over the immediate horizon, so to speak – the sea, the hills, the river, the bush. Saltwater was one of the first buildings to be completed in this unrelentingly flat and denuded wetlands site that lie a short distance from the coastal dunes.
To be frank, the site is without immediate context, which is usually provided by existing built or natural environments. Not so much a greenfield site, but more a building block on reclaimed land that will, in future, provide the reference point from which others take their bearings.
Form and function
With this in mind, the building was imagined as an abstracted tree, signifying new life, yet returning to the site a notional form of shelter. Thus, a green metal roof ‘grows’ strategically over and down the sides of the building in places. In others, soffits are lined in a warm timber evocative of the under croft of a tree.
Rendered with a subtlety that avoids overt reference or kitsch, the building-as- tree metaphor is something that visitors appreciate at an unconscious level, with feelings of familiarity and welcome as they walk under the building’s canopy and watch as this new community grows around them.
Viewed from a distance, the shape of the building – an amphitheatre – disrupts the native landscape, and in so doing provides opportunities for formal and informal community performance. The provision of the amphitheatre was part of a suite of environmentally sustainable initiatives adopted for this project, including a community produce garden and covered courtyard. Thus, shape and form allow the revised agenda of the yellow space (circulation) to extend into the outdoors, providing more of those un-programmed opportunities absent in other centres.
In fledgling suburbs such as Point Cook, nurturing the fragile idea of community found expression in the previously mentioned unprogrammed circulation spaces. However, it was clear from Croxon Ramsay’s review of Council’s established community centres that these were merely under-utilised, indifferently furnished thoroughfares. Lighting was uniform, artificial and the penetration of natural light poor. What’s more, views to the outdoors or to other parts of the centre were practically non-existent.
In the hands of Croxon Ramsay, Saltwater Community Centre has made excellent use of space, which not only adds to the amenity of the building, but sets a new benchmark. Kindergarten rooms (pink) and maternal and child health (orange) emphasise the central purpose of the centre, ie the need to support young mothers and families. Community rooms (blue) create room – and rooms – for social activities including Pilates, life drawing and special occasions, such as 21 st birthday celebrations. Contained within each brief was an allowance for 10-15% yellow space, which, although understated in the brief, is probably the most vital element in establishing the idea of community.
From the main entry of the building, the gently curving timber and brick walls and stepped ceilings offer glimpses of diverse nodes of activity, without revealing spaces in their entirety. Pockets of light and generous glazing provide connectivity with larger programmed spaces, and views into the courtyard and community garden beyond.
|Circulation and gathering||These are separated to allow un-programmed happenings, and are identified by a softening of the palette of materials, increased acoustic attenuation, and increased volume enhanced with natural light from above.|
|Community gallery||This provides shopfront for the community art studio, and opens up the formal kitchen facility to the adjacent node for both spontaneous and programmed events. Substantially improves connectivity and visual permeability between the programmed spaces and nodes.|
Nodes are furnished to encourage varied opportunities for informal and spontaneous gatherings, comfortable and welcoming, serviced with low velocity displacement air supply and high acoustic attenuation. All nodes defined by a sculpted timber ceilingscape, light scoops providing deep daylight penetration from multiple orientations further emphasizing the delineation between circulation and node.
Undulating brickwork and hardwood cladding
The Centre’s finish includes a palette of practical, durable materials (authentic), which underscore these abstractions, softening and wearing over the coming seasons. Using a ribbon of undulating brickwork, Croxon Ramsay drew inspiration from the nearby coastal sand berms. Indeed, brickwork shelters the activities within, and forms the two main street facades, peeling away to form entries and curling internally to embrace the main circulation space.
A cladding of Australian native hardwood lines the kindergarten and concealed facades of the community courtyard. This timber will silver over time. The pale green roof structure and expressed light scoops with their blonde timber underbellies echo the protective canopies of the tea trees prevalent in the coastal park.
In terms of sustainability, the amphitheatre conceals a thermal labyrinth that preconditions the fresh air supplied to the building, adding to environmental sustainability. The labyrinth is paired with an elevated transpired façade, night purging, and CO2 monitoring to provide efficiencies in the operation of mechanical plant and improve user comfort. Rain, wind and sun are all harvested and reused on site, with rainwater directly used for irrigation within the community produce garden. The monitoring of air quality, water and energy consumption via the building management system is displayed for the community to promote an understanding of the performance of the ESD measures adopted.
Early on, architects identified that integrating artwork could heighten the sentiment of the ribbon of brickwork which peels away to form entries, and curls internally to embrace the main circulation space. Modelled brickwork was just of three expressions of integrated artwork within the project, the others being work by Louise Lavarack and Fono McCarthy. The collaborative process involved Croxon Ramsay working with commissioned artist, the builder and the trade to reconcile intent with constructability.
Visual artist, Louise Lavarack developed ‘Undulating’, an image of shifting tidal sands defined by relief in the Flemish bond of the brickwork. Following extensive workshops with various groups, local artist, Fono McCarthy, created the perforated ceiling to the main entry, imagined as thumbprints. Artist, Rosa Tato, also engaged with the wetlands with her perforated metal ceilingscape, in order to seek out native fauna and remind the community of bird habit, now lost, that with revegetation will spring forth once more. Nature will find a way.
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