Woy Woy Rehabilitation Unit


Location: Woy Woy NSW

Structural Engineer: AECOM

Client: Health Infrastructure

Builder: ADCO Constructions

Architect: Woods Bagot

Bricklayer: Conrina Constructions

Photographer: DC Photographic

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Once a small resort town,Woy Woy has long been a favourite of retirees, including the parents of legendary comedian Spike Milligan. He first visited the NSW Central Coast peninsula in 1958 and spent many months there over the following decades. “To me it was his home, that was where his heart was, at Woy Woy, where he always went back to,” says Laura Milligan, Spike’s eldest daughter.

The growing retiree population was a major factor in the development of the Woy Woy Hospital’s Rehabilitation Unit, a 30-bed facility managed by the Central Coast Local Health Network for patients requiring restorative care following injury, surgery or illness.

The Unit, designed by Woods Bagot, comprises three buildings that are keyed into the rear of the existing hospital but are operationally separate. Sited within a parkland environment, the buildings or “pods” are grouped in an inverted L-shape around a car park. The two pods to the east are residential, while the upper section of the western pod houses clinical facilities, dining and lounge rooms, gymnasium and nursing functions. The entrance is located at the link between the residential pods and the western pod. The lower section contains ancillary services for the entire campus such as linen, mechanical services and stores.

The internal design of any health care facility is a matter of striking a balance between patient needs and operational efficiency, and well beyond the scope of this article. Health care building projects, especially those funded by the public purse, are not known for their lavish budgets. So how did the exterior of this small regional facility come to have such an eye-catching appearance?

“Health projects come under a really tight budget,” says Woods Bagot associate Mohammed Khaled,“and you have to start thinking of creative ways of making the buildings more interesting.” His solution was to use the modularity inherent in brickwork to create a series of seemingly-random pixellated patterns. The factor that varies this patterning is a little unusual and will be revealed later.

Why brick is a simpler matter:“Conceptually we wanted to have a building that was on a scale sympathetic to the surroundings. So obviously this influenced the height, roof forms and the choice of walling material, namely brick.”

The dominant brick is Austral Bricks Burlesque, a fully-glazed clay masonry unit in Smashing Blue, an obvious colour choice for a coastal location.

Sole use of the glossy blue bricks may have been visually overwhelming. However they came into their own as part of a mottled pattern when teamed with more conventional bricks in blacks, browns and greys.

So what was the factor used as the design variable for the brickwork patterning? “We had a bit of a play on the roofs,” says Khaled. “As you walk around the buildings you can appreciate how we shaped the roofs. They are your normal hip roof but we did a bit more pushing and shoving to bring natural light into the centre of the building. And we played on that in the walling.”

Using Rhino 3D modelling software, the designers drew deviation lines that essentially followed the roof lines above each wall. “In effect it’s a mirror of what the roof does above. In some cases where it was an end of a wall, that’s where the concentration of blue bricks was intense on one side and started vanishing towards the end.”

The blue is at its most prominent at the entrance and all but disappears at back-of-house areas. “We wanted the blue bricks where we could see them at the entry sides and the back where patients are. The lines follow the roof in most cases and sometimes just disappear when they need to at the end of a wall.”

While the software indicated how many Smashing Blue bricks were needed in a section of walling and the line their placement was to follow, the final creative control was left to the bricklayer. Although it would have been possible to detail every brick placement, this solution was more practical and added another creative dimension.

The design makes further use of brickwork’s modularity to create hit-and-miss (or perforated) walling which allows light penetration and ventilation while maintaining privacy. A section of hit-and-miss features in the southern wall separating the two residential pods. It allows light into the maintenance-access courtyard and the adjacent glass link.

Another hit-and-miss wall flanks the staff courtyard. “We wanted to give it some privacy but not kill it from the ventilation and light point-of-view and to maintain a soft link with the building’s geometry,” Khaled explains.

After an expenditure of $11.6 million, the Woy Woy Rehabilitation Unit opened in mid-2013 to the acclaim of local residents who love their town despite its odd name. Spike Milligan once mused that if the name comes from the local indigenous words meaning ‘deep water’ then “which Woy means ‘deep’ and which Woy means ‘water’? It makes you think.”

You can’t help but believe that the zany and “random” wall patterns of the new Rehabilitation Unit would have appealed to an unconventional thinker like Spike Milligan.

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