Finalist 2021

Hobsons Bay Civic Centre - for Hobsons Bay City Council

GroupGSA / Hobsons Bay City Council

The redesign of the Civic Centre connects Council with the community, natural environment and history of Hobsons Bay.

Built in 1963 the Hobsons Bay Civic Centre is the central administrative office for Hobsons Bay City Council and base for 330 staff. The building needed to be brought up to modern standards to sustain Council’s future service delivery and avoid hefty maintenance costs.

The new design needed to be creative, socially sensitive, sustainable, healthy and contextual, reflecting a major cultural change taking place within the organisation. The result is a micro-city which enhances community connection, accommodates different ways of working and highlights transparency by blurring the boundaries between the public community spaces and private working areas.

Design Brief

The brief was to reimagine the Hobsons Bay Civic Centre, reflecting plans to make the organisation more transparent, agile and adaptable.

The previous Civic Centre was a miscellany of spaces and extensions that were added to over a period of 40 years. The interior was filled with 1980s style cubicle work spaces whilst the perimeter contained several large enclosed offices which stopped natural light and connection to the views of Cherry Lake and natural surrounds. The new design needed to provide an agile working environment for 330 staff which was easy to use, responsible, flexible and adaptable. It needed to connect to the natural setting; future; history; industry and most importantly, to the local community.

Other key requirements were to enable collaboration beyond the formal meeting room, use progressive sustainable and socially responsible design, and provide a welcoming and transparent customer interaction area for Council to connect with the community.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

Group GSA worked closely with Hobsons Bay staff and management on an intense reverse brief process. As many as 400 people were involved in multiple briefing and engagement sessions across a range of activities including a 40-person visioning workshop, four focus groups with 80 participants, image posters across multiple sites, individual briefing interviews with 14 departments and 41 participants, online surveys, staff observation studies to identify utilisation and behaviours, and 46 emails from the staff suggestion box. The process involved multiple stakeholders including Council staff, Council’s management team and councillors who were responsible for the final project approval and tendered budget.

Ten key brief drivers were established from this engagement process which included:
1) A concept of light & shade zones
2) Planning for diversity and inclusion
3) Planning for spaces that support new ideas and innovative solutions to wicked problems
4) Planning for spaces which signal sharing and learning
5)Planning for landmarks
6) Inclusion of atriums and openable windows
7) Planning for neighbourhoods
8) Adopting an ABW workplace model
9) Adopting sustainability features such as solar power, natural ventilation (with nighttime purging), and biophilia
10) Removing physical barriers between the council and community

The design team presented the design progress and collected feedback during key milestones, for example the concept stage and design development stage. One such session included an audience of 400 Council staff and project partners. During all the engagement activities, it was clear there was a great amount of optimism and enthusiasm for creative design solutions.

Design Excellence

The Civic Centre is an inclusive environment embracing the local context with intentional design interventions such as the wide north–south pathway which runs through the centre of the workplace connecting the important natural landmarks of Cherry Lake to the north and Port Phillip Bay to the south. This critical planning tool resulted in a public space at the core of the workplace removing the barriers between the community and Council. The community space includes a co-working area, community meeting rooms and a customer service foyer.

When security is needed, a transparent and permeable barrier is activated without impacting the vision into the heart of the workspace. Three gardens and water features (round-abouts) are scattered along the pathway containing information about the three Kulin Nation language groups of Hobsons Bay and their ties to the land. The pathway contains presentation zones, collaboration zones and a floating meeting room set on a pool of water housing rescued piers. Openable louvres connect an internal garden atrium and its natural ventilation to the pathway.

The only office in the building is the Mayoral office, a pod covered in local hardwood which signals direct access to the community with its large transparent window.

In the ‘shade zone’ stands the oil pod covered in black zinc shingles representing Hobson Bay’s long history of industry. The busy activity of the north-south pathway permits a Danger Zone (a space with loud visual patterns and music) to support stimulation seekers. In the ‘light zone’ stands the heritage pod - an abstract interpretation of local federation architecture. Focus rooms are peppered throughout both the light and shade zones as well as in the green planted pod to the north and recycled brick pod in the west. A quiet zone encircles the brick pod with its neutral palette and quietness.

Design Innovation

Group GSA is researching Neurodiversity and Mental Health and how we can design for this in workplaces, educational settings and other spaces to enable “success” and “inclusion”.

It is estimated that around 18% of the population is neuro-divergent which means they process information in a different way (source: Workplace Dyslexia & Specific Learning Difficulties – Productivity, Engagement and Wellbeing by Janette Beetham, Leyla OKhai). In Australia, it is estimated that 45% of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime (source: Beyond Blue).
We have confidence designing through a sensory lens will result in improved comfort, inclusion and success for the larger population. HBCC came on board with this way of designing and employed our sensory design interventions across a range of their spaces. Key to this was providing the user with choice over their space, as well as a diversity of settings (collaborative and individual) with a minimum of two sensory modes (high intensity and low intensity).

Therefore, we designed spaces for low stimulation in sound, movement, colour and materials in the quiet zone and spaces for high stimulation in sound, movement and colour in the danger zone. In addition, there is a sensory room designed for low stimulation and calmness with soft, felt, dark walls and low lighting levels.

Another innovation is the virtual power across HBCC buildings of which the Civic Centre was a key part.

Rooftop PV panels were added to generate renewable energy required onsite, and surplus clean, green power is moved from one building to another within the network, reducing Council’s reliance on grid-supplied energy. The system will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 4,000 tonnes per year, which is up to 55 per cent of Council’s total carbon emissions, the equivalent of taking almost 600 homes off the grid.

Design Impact

The CEO and design team were determined that this project had a positive social impact on three levels:

1. Designing for diversity and inclusion. The design exceeds the equal access standards of the National Construction Code and implements the seven Universal Design Principles. Group GSA applied its research project of designing for neurodiversity ( The design accommodates individuals of different brain variations with spaces varying in sensory modes. The Danger Zone appeals to those who do their best work in a high stimulation environment. The Quiet Zone was designed neutral in finish, noise, and movement to accommodate those who do their best work in a low stimulation environment. A sensory room provides reprieve from movement and allows prayer, meditation, and contemplation. To stimulate concentration a narrow-inset boardwalk weaves its way from the north to south. Balancing on this narrow path stimulates the movement sense and in turn concentration and modulation.

2. Designing for wellness and sustainability. Along the many landscaped pathways, water-stations are found encouraging hydration. The natural environment has a strong presence internally vis biophilic carpet, natural materials, plants, natural light, shade, light wells, atriums, and skylights ensuring a strong connection to nature. Solar panels cover the roof. Natural ventilation was designed into the existing façade and new atriums. The new deck houses a vegetable garden as well as a direct connection to Cherry Lake. Even the graphic response of the glass deckles represents water bubbles in a playful way.

3. Designing for the local community. Hobsons Bay City Council worked with local furniture makers, artisans, and material suppliers to ensure local product was used in the design. Furniture made by hand is ever-present. Re-used materials were assembled with heart by craftsman in the trade of bricklaying and timber joining.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Circular and sustainable design was paramount to the project. The design makes great use of recycled materials with historical significance to Hobsons Bay. Old bricks were sourced from the Newport Railyards to represent the importance of the rail lines to the city’s past and present. Recycled timber from the Altona Pier was also used in the design and in some places barnacles are still visible, clearly referencing the history and course of time. Locally made furniture and elements by artisans and joiners using reclaimed timber of significance fill rooms and spaces.

Smart lighting systems, occupant sensing, low water use fittings and controlled air conditioning provide significant energy savings and environmental benefits. Further to this a 2000 square metre panel solar array fills the entire roof area providing sufficient power to supply 110 average sized Victorian households. An earlier initiative of the building was to provide free electric car charging to the community and the new works allow expansion of this system to future proof this important community offering.

Biophilic design and connections to nature are embedded in all aspects of the design with practical and positive sustainability outcomes. Large skylights throughout provide connection to views while reducing energy costs for artificial lighting. An abundance of plants and water features, including a large indoor pond, provide positive wellness outcomes reminding users of the importance of the local natural environments.

The air conditioning system incorporated automated opening louvres which provide an abundance of natural ventilation whilst further reducing energy use. Materials and selections were considered for their recycled content and recyclability with an honest approach to their natural qualities, most prevalent in the approach to polished concrete flooring and accepting its imperfections rather than layering over with additional finishes.

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