Finalist 2023

Darebin Intercultral Centre

Sibling Architecture

The Darebin Intercultural Centre is a community facility established to foster meaningful and constructive inter-racial, inter-cultural, and inter-faith relations.

The Darebin Intercultural Centre is a new community facility established to foster meaningful and constructive inter-racial, inter-cultural, and inter-faith relations between people who live, work and play in Darebin. The Centre is dedicated to the elimination of racism and discrimination in all its forms for the community by providing a safe space where connections and fearless dialogue can occur.

Design Brief:

Ultimately this project is about inclusion of the community. The brief for this project was to transform part of the ground floor of the Darebin Civic Centre, originally built in 1895, into a new community facility dedicated to fostering understanding between diverse cultures. The brief called for a series of flexible meeting and collaboration spaces that could be used by members of the public, to foster meaningful and constructive inter-racial, inter-cultural, and inter-faith relations between users. This meant the spaces had to cater to all types of groups, from small meetings of 2-3 people, right up to larger group gatherings. Functionally, the spaces also had to cater to all types of potential gatherings, from working groups, to meetings, to social gatherings, and larger events. So flexibility was key to the brief and being able to accommodate as many configurations as possible within the 300 square metre floor plan.

This project was developed by:

  • Sibling Architecture

Design Process

Due to the fact that the project was all about designing for, and inclusion of the community, extensive community consultation was key for the design prcoess of this project. The design process included a Community Reference Group comprised of eight culturally and linguistically diverse community members who helped co-design and steer the project outcome via five reference group sessions.

The project was further strengthened through five co-design and consultation sessions with Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung elders. The outcomes of these consultation processes are reflected in the project outcome, with many of the Centre’s spaces being named in Wurundjeri language. This consultation process also established the guiding project principles:

  • 'Be: Inclusive while Culturally Dynamic',
  • 'Unify: The Space Between Cultures',
  • 'Create: Transformative Spaces',
  • 'Enable: Light, Warmth & Transparency'.

These principles drove the design and led to a dynamic design outcome of intersecting spaces, colours and textures intended to house dynamic and intersecting ideas. Planned as a series of flexible gathering spaces, a series of curtains and operable walls offers the space infinite flexibility and encourages user agency.

A diverse type of spaces are available, ranging from areas for desk work, smaller sound proof meetings rooms, larger seminar spaces, and the whole spaces can be opened up to accommodate larger events. Key joinery and social infrastructure including the two central tables, act as the focal point within the design and act as social infrastructure to encourage the community to come together. The gesture of welcoming in the community continues out into the public realm, with a new accessible entry and native landscape designed in collaboration with Charles Solomon from Garwana Creative.

Design Excellence

The Darebin Intercultural Centre project is an exemplar of fundamental good design in its process, outcome and legacy. By embracing cultural diversity as a key driving design principle, the outcome of the project is an unexpected delight. Overall, the project demonstrates how architecture can serve as a tool by providing space to support inclusivity, and social cohesion within diverse communities.

This project looks to celebrate diverse cultures and inclusion through all facets of the project, formally, spatially and materially. The project creates a space that encourages intercultural communication and understanding through design elements such as flexible multi-purpose spaces, and outdoor communal areas that reflect the cultural heritage of the surrounding community. Key to our design is the response to the unoriginal colonial detailing present throughout the interior. A deliberate move was made to remove or purge the interior spaces of faux colonial iconography whilst maintaining and celebrating key original features and materials, especially those made from country i.e. bricks and floor tiles to ensure the spaces felt safe for everyone to use.

The material palette is deliberately diverse in its language, colour and texture, and represents a collage overlaid onto the physical spaces. Bricks are revealed, local timbers are utilised, and mirror is used throughout to reflect the community back onto itself and to remind people of their importance in inhabiting the spaces. Soft and hard spaces clash with natural materials and colour to create a symbiosis that fuses the spaces together. The adaptive re-use of the existing building also breathes new life into what was an under- utilised civic building; the outcome improving the use and accessibilty coupled with the vast social benefits that the project promotes will ensure that the Centre remains a dynamic, sustainable, and safe space for future generations of the Darebin community.

Design Innovation

Both the brief and design response for this project are truly innovative and unique, this is the first community space of this nature dedicated to minimising racism by providing a space to celebrate and foster diverse cultures and the inter relationships between the community. This project serves as an example for new innovative community spaces within public and civic buildings, to address issues in the twenty-first century.

A distinct challenge in for this project was designing for such a diverse set of community members not only limited to ethnic communities but all non majority communities including LGBTQI, CALD and many more. A deliberate move was made early in the project to create a space that was culturally agnostic but had all the qualities that would encourage welcome and safety for all its users. Rather than produce a tapestry of cultures which already exists, the design embodies a tapestry of materials, colours and textures a metaphor for the diverse community. This tapestry then becomes three dimensional with social infrastructure placed throughout the centre. The infrastructure prefaces use agency and allows for a myriad of social configurations.

A key move is the removal of the hard plaster and cornicing throughout the interior which acts to de-colonise the interior spaces creating a distinct juxtaposition with the heritage building as if stepping into a new world. The coloured framed windows internally also frame views back to High St and its colourful life and projects the community into the interior spaces, creating an endless dialogue with the boarder community. The project itself will not solve discrimination or racism but what it does do is provide the community with a safe space for fearless conversations to occur allowing them to become connected with one another, which is ultimately a step in the right direction.

Design Impact

This project showcases both ancient and contemporary design in Victoria. Until recently, the rich cultural heritage of the Gunditjmara and the ingenuity of their ancient engineering was not widely recognised. Coupled with UNESCO recognition, the development of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape as a tourism destination raises the profile of Victoria’s First Nations heritage, through designs that provide a sophisticated visitor experience fitting for these World Heritage sites.

The project sets a positive precedent for First Nations communities in reclaiming their role as custodians of Country. The entire project was initiated by the Traditional Owners. Having fought a long battle for Native Title rights, the Gunditjmara engaged CSA, drove the brief for the project, provided input into the designs, were involved throughout construction and now manage and operate the facilities.

The development provides a wide range of meaningful employment opportunities for Gunditjmara on Country, ranging from café staff to tour guides, cultural heritage officers, administration and an extensive ranger program to manage almost 10,000Ha of land. By creating a successful tourism venture, the Gunditjmara can support a wide range of initiatives to restore and regenerate their lands including reflooding wetlands, removing weeds, revegetation, bushfire management and controlling pests.

The designs are intended to be highly durable with materials chosen for their long lifespan as well as to minimise environmental impact of development on the sites. Locally supplied materials such as bluestone were specified. At Budj Bim National Park, the former Parks office was repurposed as a Visitor Centre, using the existing structure rather than building new.

The project contributes significantly to the local economy of southwest Victoria by attracting local, interstate and international visitors to the region. The designs have a positive social impact by enabling visitors to learn about the Gunditjmara community's ancient and continuing connection to Country.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The adaptive reuse of existing spaces is a sustainable aspect of the centre's design. Rather than demolishing the existing building, the project repurposed the space, reducing waste and minimizing the carbon footprint associated with new construction. This also preserves the history and character of the building, promoting a sense of place and community identity. Finally, the recycling of building materials is another way in which the Darebin Intercultural Centre promotes sustainability. During the construction process, the project recycled building materials, reducing waste and minimizing the environmental impact of the project.

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