Alamein, Victoria, Australia

Great design helps to build great communities.

That was the key premise for the Alamein Neighbourhood Learning Centre, in Melbourne’s southeast with a prominent position across from Alamein train station.

But our response was not to create a flash, new building. Instead, we adopted a process of critical thinking to rise above the site’s constraints with a higher resolved, considered design. We wanted to give back more to the building than just better learning facilities, with stronger amenity, placemaking and more opportunities for the community to thrive.

Built in 1957, the existing site was originally a Maternal and Child Health Centre. It was converted into a neighbourhood learning centre in 1998 with two classrooms and a computer lab.

But with its residential aesthetic, the site lacked the presence of a community hub. Its public park and community garden were separate, while the indistinct side street entrance was confusing for first time visitors.

The previous centre comprised of small, inadequate spaces that failed to accommodate the needs of the dynamic community.  The inefficient layout did not allow for flexible use of space for individual and collective programs.  The centre lacked a space for community gatherings and was ill-equipped to provide comfort and privacy. Our proposal aims to carefully respond to these issues and foster social connections in an inclusive environment.  

Starting with the existing form, we retained what we could with a new design and extension that lifts and pays homage to the building fabric. The extension follows the pitches of existing roof angles, with interesting design elements to bring old and new together creating a bolder community presence.

Inside, our approach was to draw upon the community engagement workshops run by council. This was a vital process to understand what the community values and implement these core ideas in the design. For example, the community expressed their want to enhance the community garden and as a response, the design maximises green space. Through this stage, we are able to listen to the users and build a stronger understanding of the proposal. We then used our tertiary education experience to develop more engaging classrooms, plus informal and social spaces designed to bring the community together. 

As a result, the extended centre includes a dedicated common /social space, an extra craft workshop and a revamped computer room, with further upgraded spaces to add greater capacity for class and workshop offerings. AV capability is also included to facilitate remote learning opportunities, while the staff and reception spaces are now more secure as well. Considerable focus was given to the slope of the site to enhance accessibility, and we also ensured a better connection to the park and community garden, plus added a deck to the common room that extends into the outdoors. 

Today, the centre is home to many community activities and programs, including Men’s Shed, Tiny Library, internet access, shopping and bus trips, as well as low-cost courses from health and wellbeing to English and literacy. Furthermore, it is also equipped to offer ESD workshops, helping to set a positive example to the community through its own ESD goals.