Gippsland, Victoria

The Callignee Community Hub represents the hope and goodwill of a town rising from Victoria’s devastating Black Saturday bushfires.

In Australia’s worst bushfire disaster on February 7, 2009, four people were killed in the area and nearly every house was destroyed, along with the original 1885 hall.

We were engaged by La Trobe City council to replace the much-loved hall, and as we began, the project quickly became more than simply designing four walls. The challenge was to create a facility for the community, by the community, with genuineness and authenticity. This was important because some residents felt abandoned by the council and couldn’t understand how architects could be working on a new community hall when they no longer had a house to live in.

Our response was to walk our talk, which translated into community engagement at its finest. We became the council’s voice and the residents’ hands – listening first and designing second – in equal collaboration with members of the community, the Country Fire Association (CFA) and government bodies.

We set up an open design studio in Callignee over three days and lived there to get a feel for what the community was living through. We opened the doors and invited everyone in at any time to contribute ideas, share knowledge and feel ownership to the design process from the outset.  

Key feedback was that the original style and feel of the hall was important to the community, as was an oak tree on the site that had survived the fires. Donations began to come in for community ideas such as relocating an existing road next to the site that was dangerous, making it safer for children. There was also a donation for a roof-mounted solar panel system and photovoltaic inverters. 

We proposed a larger facility comprising four buildings:

  • Multi-functional community hall with a kitchen and toilet/shower facilities
  • Kindergarten / childcare
  • CFA fire station
  • Clubhouse with toilet and change facilities

The concept was designed in collaboration with Design Urban, community feedback and our own flavour inspired by David Chipperfield’s River and Rowing Museum in London.

Each of the four buildings features a pitched roof, referencing the community’s love for the original hall, connected by a glazed, partly enclosed walkway that softens the collective experience of the site, rather than overwhelm it.

The orientation of each building allows for courtyards each servicing the community in different ways. There’s one for the kindergarten, and another for public events connected to an adjacent sports field. The materiality had to respond to the newly implemented bushfire design standards. Finally, we respected the old oak tree in the design by including it in the development, where it continues to thrive. 

The proposal was very well received. We downplayed the idea of any ‘architecture’ with the notion of a complex or facility that would serve the community into the future. We engaged with residents again over the next few months by returning to present the developing design at open hall sessions and workshops.  

Today, the hub looks as immaculate as it did when we completed it. It creates a point of pride to the community where everyone can gather, celebrate and share in new ways the old hall could not.

Importantly, this project demonstrates the power of collaboration. By connecting with the users of the site sensitively and intelligently, we have designed an exceptional solution for generations to come.