2016 Public Building Prize: Saltwater Community Centre by Croxon Ramsay Architects

  •   8 May 2017

In August, Wyndham City marked the official opening of its new community centre in Point Cook, a $7.3 million project the council describes as “artistic and sustainable”.

Taking home two awards at the 2016 Victorian Architecture Awards, the Sustainable Architecture and Melbourne Prize, the Saltwater was a pilot community facility case study for the Wyndham City Council, supported by the state government.

“Council wanted the Centre to be a hub where residents can access health services, recreation and learning programs. We wanted this centre to be a place for people of all ages to come together and enjoy,” Wyndham City Mayor Cr Adele Hegedich said.

“It is an example of Wyndham City planning for the future and delivering important infrastructure that meets the needs and interests of our local communities.

“In developing the plan for Saltwater Community Centre, council also engaged with the local community to identify their preferences for activities and programs to be offered at the centre. The community told us [they wanted] arts activities that can reach out to the wider Wyndham community and that [would] make Saltwater a cultural destination.”

Although a brief as specific as this makes design conceptualisation much easier – for instance, an exhibition hall for community art exhibitions – the design team at Croxon Ramsay wanted to flip the notion of fixed spaces for fixed activities on its head.

Moving away from the narrative of many public spaces, the architects deliberately created a series of amorphous, unprogrammed public spaces with one goal: to foster the idea of community through genuine interaction amongst community members, rather than just through a calendar of events at specified meeting places.

Although the team had a lot to work with when it came to the intention of the new centre, the site didn’t offer much. In fact, the architects point out that because the building was one of the first to be completed in an unrelentingly flat and denuded wetlands site, the project in effect had no context.

This provided a blank canvas for the team, who imagined the building as an abstracted tree that reinstated a notional form of shelter while signifying new life.

“A green metal roof ‘grows’ strategically over and down the sides of the building in places, while in others, soffits are lined in a warm timber that speak of a tree’s under croft,” the design team explains.

“The building is finished in a palette of honest, durable materials that speak to this context and with the change in season and slowly silver and soften [over time].”

Adopting a 5 Star Green Star rating equivalent as a starting point to the design was another guiding principle for the team. While most projects take the certified Green Star approach, often making it easier for consulting teams to achieve sustainability benchmarks, council chose to go without certification as they believed it would give them greater control and flexibility throughout the design process.

This also meant that the team had to be creative with their sustainability approach. They quickly ruled out items that posed a cost, delivery and maintenance risk, so that efforts were concentrated on ensuring the vital ESD initiatives were not removed if cost cutting was required.

For example, when budget pressures came into play, the transpired wall, thermal labyrinth and displacement air were already built in and could not be “extracted”. Croxon Ramsay adds that while the wind turbine and PV array “required some convincing”, they were also retained due to their relatively short pay back projections.

Other ESD highlights include:

  • C02 monitoring in all community gathering spaces to ensure maximum efficiencies are achieved in the operation of mechanical systems and the number of building users at any point of time
  • Separating car parking provisions into two smaller car parks to reduce the visual impact of this requirement and providing the opportunity for council to redevelop the car park on the south of the site as public marketplace/ green space once public transport links to this facility improve and demand on parking is reassessed in the future. The pedestrian and not the car is granted the privilege to the main entry at this centre
  • Undercover bike parking and a shower is provided for patrons arriving on bicycle
  • A community produce garden promotes strategies for healthy communities and sustainable food practices while encouraging the community to seed, cultivate and cook their own produce on site
  • All data concerning wind, solar and rain harvesting on site, plus all data regarding the facilities energy consumption is managed and collated through the BMS and EMS, and communicated to the community via a dedicated LCD display promoting the performance of these ESD initiatives

Understanding that the community centre today may not meet the needs of tomorrow, the design team also undertook significant future planning of areas within the facility that may need to support other functions. Areas such as the kindergarten and MC&H consulting rooms, for example, are designed for disassembly. The external metal cladding, external timber cladding and internal timber linings are also detailed with standard lengths and concealed/clip fixing, which enable these components to be disassembled and reused elsewhere without damage or compromise to the salvaged material.

Similarly all external structures adjacent to these spaces have adopted a standard length, mechanical fixing only approach to enable disassembly/ reassembly in the future.

The Saltwater Community Centre has been well used by the community since it opened its doors in February, and is expected to pave the way for a new facility that will provide for different activities for the community.








Jury Citation

“Croxon Ramsay’s comprehensive approach to sustainability is embedded throughout the design of the Saltwater Community Centre. From passive design elements to appropriate use of technology and active systems, the project’s energy performance and environmental message has been meticulously considered. Croxon Ramsay’s commitment to social sustainability and its efforts to bring its clients on the project’s journey is also to be commended.”