Best in Category - Architectural Design 2021

Broadmeadows Town Hall

Kerstin Thompson Architects / Hume City Council

The Broadmeadows Town Hall is an important repository of community memory, the renovation re-instates its suburban-civic grandeur and cultural significance.

The Broadmeadows Town Hall, or Pink Elephant as it was fondly known, is an important repository of community memory. The renovation re-instates its suburban-civic grandeur and transforms the space around it from a sea of carpark to urban place. Responding to contemporary times and need, the Town Hall is now a hybrid of many functions including civic, cultural and commercial.

Two dramatic cuts to the existing facade and additional new commercial hub, reveal the life and activities within including a community business incubator, gallery, office and event spaces. Around the perimeter, landscaping and service elements define outdoor spaces for visitors.

Design Brief

KTA’s approach was to improve the buildings performance and retain its strengths, clarity and distinctive character – particularly its scale, symmetry, civic grandeur and ceremonial organisation.

Balancing the desire for continuity and change the design intents were to: collect and celebrate community memories; reinstate the suburban civic grandeur where it had been sadly lost; transform ‘place and use’ for making people (not cars) the focus; and engage many. To design a place for all in this diverse community.

Working closely with Hume City Council, the local community and stakeholders a strategy was developed which supported various uses, cohorts, and connections to the broader precinct, in other words a community heart.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

Designed by architects Forster & Walsh in 1964, the Town Hall was considered grand, in life and in photos the hall interior has functioned as background to decades of personal milestones and civic events: weddings, citizenship ceremonies, debutant balls, tango classes and basketball games, car club meets and so on. KTA’s approach to its upgrade was to improve the buildings performance without diminishing its capacity to trigger memories of the past, and to resist the urge of some to rid it of its ‘retro’ character. The original two-tone brickwork, intrinsic to its character and nickname, has been embraced as the founding palette of the new works.

The north façade has been drastically transformed, with the addition of an east west spine connecting through to the precinct and a large cut - an oculus which reveals the inner program of the commercial hub. Careful work was undertaken by the team, to maintain and conserve as much of the original brick façade whilst incorporating new programs, adaptable uses and updates. The introduction of new hub to the south of the hall provides additional floor area as required by the brief. The renovated Town Hall retains its legacy as a civic building, but it’s identity and purpose now engage more broadly with the community and surrounding precinct.

Memorable elements like the grand staircase in the civic foyer meet current code without losing its distinctive steel and timber detail. Some have been repurposed like the splendid blue velvet curtain and scalloped timber of the former stage, now integral to the new lounge and bar of the same name. Art has also been a way of engaging with the town hall’s heritage with Artist Robbie Rowlands’ piece Crossing the floor revealing the ground below its floors, “Once thistle fields and muddied streets”, untouched for over 50 years.

Design Excellence

The adaptive reuse of the existing 1960’s Town Hall to a multi-purpose exhibition, arts, commercial and community facility encompassed extensive engagement with locals, the success of this project is determined by the support of Council and neighbouring community. Since its opening in 2019, the Town Hall has fulfilled a multitude of purposes including social events, exhibitions, and a place for employment. Due to recent Covid restrictions, the Hall has been closed for social events, however it is still functioning as a community facility and is open daily for vaccinations and testing. The culmination of circumstances and recent constraints has not prevented the facility from its primary function, which is providing the community with a centre for support, a heart for the precinct.

The redevelopment required a holistic approach, some of which included outdated functions to be repurposed and access ways to be brought up to code. The design objectives integrated heritage details and contemporary fit for purpose materials, the outcome skilfully conserves the civic character and observes the anticipated flexibility to accommodate future needs. A significant nod was received when the AIA heritage jury, cited the project as ’modern suburban heritage’.

As the building forms part of a broader civic precinct, the master plan included the surrounding landscape spaces, these spaces were designed for pedestrians to inhabit, gather, and enjoy.

‘The Broadmeadows Town Hall is a skilful example of what can be achieved when outdated community buildings are adaptively reused rather than replaced. Clever internal planning carefully considers each new element while the best of the existing fabric is respected and championed. The architecture confidently succeeds in the complex task of maintaining respect for the building’s history while providing flexibility and amenity for its new functions, which extend well beyond the original building use.’ - 2020 AIA Public Architecture Jury Citation

Design Innovation

Broadmeadows Town Hall captures a welcome shift in what and how we value architecture. The thoughtful re-use of an existing building can have significant impact on the public realm and enrichment for community incommensurate with the scale of the resources used. The design solutions are resourceful, deploying an economy of means that are transformative; an ease of fit between old forms and new uses; prioritising a strategy over material change; combing and confounds opposites - subtlety with drama; creation with repair; edit with addition.

A classic product of the 1960’s, the large footprint in a sea of carpark was alienating to people.

KTA set about creating a more habitable edge for people, introduced openings and a north south commercial spine to complement the existing east west civic ceremonial one. In addition to the more ceremonial route via the existing foyer, a new lateral one has been introduced running north south to link Dimboola Road, this runs through all floors with access to the commercial and community spaces. The building not only forms part of a precinct, but also contributes to broader neighbourhood, the glowing cube on Dimboola Road has been utilized, with coloured lighting sequences programmed to commemorate holidays and community events. The lighting display visually unites the community, when the spaces cannot be physically shared to celebrate (particularly during this time), the cube serves as a beacon of light, connecting the community.

The strategy for public realm proposed a series of connections from the various internal uses to the precinct. KTA incorporated adjacent outdoor spaces which formed entry forecourts and defined more intimate squares and gardens complementing the amenity of the adjacent uses. These spaces also offer opportunities for shaded areas and locations for both temporary and permanent public art initiatives.

Design Impact

Broadmeadows Town Hall exemplifies ‘adaptive re-use, retrofit and recycle’ as a civic ambition. Acknowledging that the greenest building is the one that is already built, precise and strategic thinking was necessary for the transformation, guided by the principles of a circular economy including managing limited means and high expectations. To achieve the best possible ESD solutions, KTA applied a spectrum of change to the existing fabric to determine the extent of work required to unlock the site’s potential. The outcome is a form of advocacy for a better way - celebrating the life expectancy and material longevity of The Pink Elephant, where cultural memory too is a beneficiary. As the tactics needed to extract mutual benefit between a project/client and its situation / neighbours, the spectrum showed how leveraging from the official project brief could be utilised to enrich and care for others including the environment.

Client quote

“Since its construction in the 1960’s, the Town Hall, Broadmeadows has played a central role in the civic and social life of the Broadmeadows community. The redevelopment expands on this legacy through adaptive re-use; transforming this culturally significant building into a landmark, contemporary facility, tailored to meet the needs of residents and businesses in Broadmeadows, Hume and Melbourne’s North. Within the existing building fabric of the Town Hall, the project provides a new model for the integration of community, business and event spaces – supporting partnerships between government, education, not-for-profit and the private sectors. Together, the expansion of community programs and services, support business development and the diversification of the local economy and create pathways to education and employment. The renewal and redevelopment ensures that the Town Hall will retain its place in the social and economic life of Broadmeadows and be cemented for decades to come.” - Dan O'Loughlin, Co-ordinator Major Projects, Hume City Council

Comments from Chair of the Victorian Premier’s Design Awards Jury, Celina Clarke.

“The approach to improve the building's performance and retain its strengths, clarity and distinctive character - particularly its scale, symmetry, civic grandeur and ceremonial organisation, is significant. Designed originally in 1964, Kerstin Thompson has been able to maintain its grandeur by upgrading and improving the building's performance, without diminishing its capacity to trigger memories of the past, and to resist the urge of some to rid it of its ‘retro’ character. This is a virtuoso example of what can be achieved when outdated community builds are skilfully reused and improved, rather than simply replaced.”

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