Finalist 2023

Warrnambool Library and Learning Centre

Kosloff Architecture / Department of Education / Warrnambool City Council / SouthWest TAFE

The Warrnambool Library and Learning Centre replaces the existing local and TAFE libraries to create a new shared community asset.

Situated on Warrnambool’s SouthWest TAFE campus, the Warrnambool Library and Learning Centre replaces the existing local and TAFE libraries and encompasses a new 3-storey building connected to a refurbished, heritage-listed building. The centre provides a much larger, brighter and accessible space for the entire community, including students and staff.

The space includes an indoor-outdoor café, public computers, exhibition and display areas, places to study and read, meeting rooms, a dedicated children’s area, and a games and digital media zone.

The project realises a vision to create an educational and cultural precinct where all age groups can congregate and learn.

Design Brief:

The brief was to deliver a joint use learning and library hub that would act as a catalyst project for the Warrnambool CBD.

Originally, the public library and the SouthWest TAFE library existed in separate locations within 100 metres of each other. By combining resources, the Warrnambool City Council and SouthWest TAFE, with support from the Victorian Government, sought to create an educational and cultural precinct that would bring together all age groups to learn and means the campus becomes a space for the whole community.

Located on the TAFE campus, a new 3-storey contemporary building is connected by a glazed linkway to the refurbished heritage-listed 1868 Orderly Room. Used by the general public as well as TAFE students and teachers, it combines traditional library functions with new spaces, including a café, exhibition and display areas, meeting rooms, a dedicated children’s area, and a digital media zone.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The project began with an extensive consultation process that included workshops, surveys and community feedback pop-up centres and sought input from the general public, library users, and TAFE students and staff. Input was also sought from the Elders of the local Gunditjmara Peoples. This process elicited thousands of responses, and from this we built a conceptual framework that was based on three key themes:

  • Delight - Natural light and connection with the outdoors. Visual links to the campus, city, and ocean beyond.
  • The Third Place – A anchor for community life. A place to exchange of ideas. A place to encounter familiar faces and make new acquaintances.
  • History, Heritage and Narrative - Ensuring the design reflects local history and existing heritage fabric to support the creation of a compelling design narrative.

Early engagement with key government bodies, including Heritage Victoria and the Office of the Victorian Government Architect, was critical to obtaining necessary approvals and support, which required three separate heritage permits.

The client has stated that “our success in drawing out the best of a tired heritage building and using it as inspiration for a stunning new three storey building with a seamless interconnection between old and new has been heralded a triumph by Warrnambool community. Striking design elements internally and externally, testament to the architect’s vision and attention to detail have ‘lifted the aspirations of the City.'

This project has provided the whole community with access to one of the most significant heritage precincts and buildings in Warrnambool, as well as revitalising and opening up the heart of the SW TAFE campus. There has been measurably positive and significant community impact in terms of increased library patronage, delivery of more services, broader community use and improving the student experience as demonstrated by the uplift in student attendance on campus.

Design Excellence

Extensive stakeholder consultation revealed that what appeared to be conflicting needs could be used to create multi-purpose spaces founded on notions of generosity, rather than scarcity. As well as reactivating the main entry to the heritage-listed Orderly Room on Kepler Street, a new pathway to the city centre has been created that also serves to draw the broader community into the heart of the campus. Direct user experience and aspirations were used to drive the design from the earliest phases and South West TAFE students were also involved in all stages of design right through to the construction of the building itself, which was the first TAFE demonstration project undertaken in regional Victoria.

All of the spaces in the building have been designed in accordance with Universal Design Principles and are now heavily utilised by community members of all ages, including freelancers and remote workers. The café is being operated by a not-for-profit organisation that trains adults with disability in hospitality, and meeting and training spaces are used by community groups.

Environmental impact has been minimised via adaptive re-use of materials, wherever possible, and the careful selection of long-life building materials requiring minimal maintenance. Landscaping supports local flora and fauna diversity and the long-term development of tree avenues within the heart of the city.

The success of the project we believe lies in its generosity and inclusivity, and it has won multiple design awards including the 2023 Architects Institute of Australia (AIA) Regional Prize for Victoria as well as an AIA award for Public Architecture, and it is currently shortlisted in the AIA National Awards for Public Architecture. It demonstrates the ability for public architecture to deliver meaningful change within a regional city, through an architecture of generosity and a deep respect for history, context, and community.

Design Innovation

The design grapples with two fundamental questions:

  • Can public architecture be a real agent for change within a regional city?
  • How might we breathe new life into a heritage context through a contemporary lens?

Another key device fitting the character of the old with the new is a “bridge” that creates an additional connection at the first-floor level where the original stage within the Orderly Room was located. Operating in a similarly performative manner, with landings offering space enough for seating or performances, the bridge also delivers views throughout both buildings.

The pre-cast concrete, curved façade of the contemporary building has been peeled back to frame views over Warrnambool and the ocean beyond. It is always read against or through the surrounding heritage context. Internally, this façade mediates a soft and diffused light, creating spaces for reading and reflection.

The interiors reference both the Warrnambool CBD grid and the gridded coffered ceiling within the Orderly Room. This intentionally extends an existing architectural relationship with the city and the heritage building and serves to bind the contemporary and heritage buildings together. The grid and articulated ceiling manifests in the design throughout each new level, with differing ceiling arrangements acting as a contemporary deconstruction of the original ceiling.

Significant restoration to the Orderly Room included revealing the original timber structure, restoring existing timber floor in sections and re-using existing limestone removed to create new openings. While the original ceiling was fully restored, the walls of the Orderly Room have been left in an “as-found” condition, contrasting against the new finishes of the ceiling and floors, hinting at the rich history of the building over time. Remnants of the long history of the building have been preserved and are juxtaposed against the new contemporary insertions.

Design Impact

The new Library and Learning Centre has provided the community with access to one of the most significant heritage precincts and buildings in Warrnambool, as well as revitalising and opening the heart of the SouthWest TAFE campus.

Warrnambool Mayor Cr Debbie Arnott has commented that “the WLLC is an outstanding community asset. Since its opening in October 2022, over 3000 new members have joined while visitor numbers are up 127 percent, loans are up 20 percent and program participation a staggering 535 percent compared to the previous year”.

South West TAFE CEO Mark Fidge calls the centre “a fantastic community resource that has boosted the vibrancy of the SWTAFE Warrnambool campus and helped contribute to a 3.5 percent increase in student numbers.”

The project also supported around 280 jobs during its construction, including 47 apprentices. All the spaces in the building have been designed in accordance with Universal Design Principles. The café is operated by a not-for-profit organisation that trains adults with disabilities in hospitality, and meeting and training spaces are used by community groups.

An ambitious sustainability agenda ensured a 100% electric facility with substantial retained and local material content. Careful planning enabled the envelope of the new building to be minimised in relation to the adjacent heritage context, and careful curation of the façade maximises natural daylight and minimises energy loss through an optimum window to wall ration.

The building’s contribution to the reputation and status of Victoria’s design and creative culture has been witnessed by its recent awards. As well as its success in the 2023 AIA awards, internationally it was the Jury Winner in the Libraries category of the Architizer A+ Awards, the world’s largest awards program for architecture and spaces. It was also named the global Popular Choice winner in the Architecture + Learning category.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The project demonstrates the potential for existing buildings to be effectively adapted and re-used in a manner that can deliver all of the functionality required for a complex public building.

At the outset, a significant focus for the project was auditing existing materials and the original built structures with a view to maximising their re-use. This focus continued through all stages of the design process. During the construction phase additional opportunities to retain existing materials were taken up wherever possible. For example, flooring uncovered was found to be the original timber and in good condition throughout much of the existing areas. These floors were renewed and retained as the final finished floors in some areas, removing the requirement for previously documented additional floor finishes (stone). Existing limestone removed to create new openings was re-used in the landscape surrounding the building.

Fittings and fixtures, including movable furniture and equipment, needed to be hard-wearing and of sufficiently high quality to withstand high levels of use within a public high-traffic environment. Wherever possible, existing materials were retained or re-used. Material selection considered VOC levels, and natural materials have been extensively used.

Water conservation is supported by a 9kl rainwater collection providing irrigation as well as rain gardens managing water on site and mitigating storm water runoff to the wider civil systems. The building is powered by solar PV, 20kw roof system and there is no natural gas supply to the facility. Spaces are mechanically ventilated and conditioned with filtered air for user comfort.

Maximising natural daylight is a key design feature and light has been carefully curated through the façade design and the zoning of activities. Pursuing natural daylight not only reduced the cost of lighting energy but also provides significant health and wellbeing benefits for the users of the space.

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