Finalist 2023

Yarra Ranges Council Civic Centre Redevelopment

H2o architects / Yarra Ranges Council / Lucid Consulting / Meinhardt Bonacci / Ziebell Landscape Architecture

An innovative work and gathering place representing local community values that exemplifies practical sustainability through adaptive reuse.

The Yarra Ranges Council Civic Centre has been revitalized by H2o, transforming the Council’s existing disconnected 1980s buildings into an integrated and dynamic campus. The Council embarked on a cultural shift to embrace an agile and flexible activity based workplace. The interior environments are carefully designed for a variety of work modes and team dynamics.

The redevelopment is a practical and humble sustainable building, focusing on the retention of existing built form to minimize its ecological impact by prioritising adaptive reuse. The architecture draws inspiration from its natural and cultural context, featuring elements acknowledging the area’s rich indigenous heritage.

Design Brief:

Yarra Ranges Council’s situation prior to the redevelopment had their staff spread across six disparate and unsuitable buildings, with main buildings further segregated vertically into separate floors. Informed by previous unsuccessful attempts to redevelop the Civic Centre, the final brief recognised the benefits to Council of culture building and staff collaboration that would be achieved by embracing an Activity Based Working philosophy.

The process of design for the Civic Centre included extensive briefings with all levels of Council staff to capture their operational and aspirational needs. The result is a bespoke interior arranging working environments into activity settings, with different configurations for varying team sizes and dynamics. The nature of each setting is designated by colour cues to assist with user understanding of appropriate behavioural expectations. A practical approach to deep sustainability was incorporated within the brief through a consultative process between Council’s sustainability team and H2o.


This project was developed by:

Design Process

The adaptive reuse of the existing building presented a design challenge to maintain continuity of Council operations on site. A strategic approach was formulated by H2o to split the building into halves to allow decanting of staff and program as building works progressed. The design was carefully articulated to enable the separation and connection of the stages. In addition, retention of the existing building floor plates required a careful focus upon universal access due to site slope and lack of accessible vertical connections.

From the outset, Yarra Ranges Council’s focus upon ensuring the local community saw value for money in the completed project was foremost to the design process to ensure that inclusions were practical, modest and humble. A cost/benefit return model was maintained throughout the design phases to ensure that a high return for investment was achieved for the community. All design elements were tested for value, including façade elements, finishes, and fittings. This design process led to the creation of three flexible and reconfigurable multipurpose meeting spaces which can be combined via retractable operable walls. The Council Chamber is accommodated within the largest of the multipurpose spaces, with demountable tables for flexibility.

The context of the project within the township of Lilydale also informed the project design process. As an region of growth on the fringe of the Melbourne Metropolitan area, the local urban plan encourages the development of a second ‘main street’ to the township The public address and entries to site and building were repositioned in order to recognise the Civic Centre’s role as a core catalyst of this plan.
Equity of access was front of mind in the design process. Universal access accommodations are located centrally and are fully integrated. Non-gendered, parental care, and faith facilities are included to ensure diversity is supported and thrives.

Design Excellence

The transformation of the former buildings into a revitalised holistic Civic Centre has been fully embraced by Council and the local community. Since its opening in 2022 during the shadows of the pandemic, the Civic Centre has become a vibrant place of work, community meeting and democracy.

The Activity Based Working model has been advantageous to enable an agile and scalable return to the workplace. The cultural and physical dividers between departments of staff have been dissolved with fantastic effect, supported by technology solutions, large breakout hubs and personal storage options. Significant attention was placed upon the design of the interiors to ensure excellence in the acoustic quality of the spaces. Acoustic linings with greater than 60% recycled content are used throughout provide acoustic absorption.

The generous stair and atrium skillfully carved within the centre of the building allows for view lines and clear circulation connection between all three levels. Located at the mid landing of the stair, the large central breakout hub is intentionally positioned as the heart of the workplace, and has become a vital culture building incubator. Likewise, the expansive rooftop deck constructed above the former library building provides an additional secure event and outdoor meeting space overlooking Lilydale Lake and Dandenongs.

The Civic Centre is a benchmark for sustainable and circular design due to it’s reduced environmental impact utilising adaptive reuse, while initiating new energy saving and generating programs.

Design Innovation

The creative adaptive reuse of existing buildings is critical for our society to achieve its targets to avoid catastrophic climate change. The construction of new buildings is currently responsible for 13% of global CO2 emissions, and if the current trend is not addressed will only grow to be a greater proportion. While the retention of existing building fabric is more challenging than a new build, this challenge was embraced by H2o for the Yarra Ranges Council Civic Centre. The resulting redevelopment retained 2,600m2 of existing floor area, with a volume of 1,300m3 of existing building material retained. The existing conditions were extensively analysed and combined with the brief to create a unique and revitalized place. The nature of the reused spaces created new opportunities, such as the extensive roof top deck above the existing library wing.

Informed by the existing conditions and the client’s brief, the Civic Centre uniquely draws from its ‘place’. The exterior and entry of the building reference the features of the local ecology, agriculture, and indigenous history of the area through the ochre tones and geological inspired forms of the façade paneling. The entry features an acknowledgement of country cast into its “foundation stone” to recognize the importance of the indigenous custodianship of the Yarra Ranges land. Likewise, interiors and finishes were inspired by the natural and cultural context. Occupant wellbeing is a key focus through the connection of the interiors to the landscape, natural conditions, and natural materials.

The public realm surrounding the building was modified to create inhabitable places for people and ceremony. Carparking that previous encompassed the building is replaced with a shared civic zone to the north and a ‘village green’ to the east to encourage staff to utilise the landscape.

Design Impact

Yarra Ranges Council Civic Centre exemplifies it’s civic ambition as community ‘gathering place’, while expressing the personality and ideologies of it’s locale. The adaptive reuse of the existing building along with new sustainability initiatives allow the council to demonstrate it’s commitment to a sustainable future and assist the community to do the same. The sustainable design approach was wholistic, from considering retention of existing building embodied energy wherever possible, to low operational energy targets, to elimination of fossil fuel connection, to operational and furnishing targets for reducing waste and the reuse of existing equipment.

The activity based working environments of the Civic Centre have allowed Council to offer a diverse and supportive workplace with emphasis on culture building and employee wellbeing, two focuses that have been greatly appreciated by a team rebuilding post Covid. The inclusion of biophilic principals of natural light, natural ventilation and natural materials within the interiors has further enhanced occupant well-being.

Inclusive design was prioritized to ensure it was for all people of the community. In addition to non-gendered and all-ability supports, the local indigenous heritage of the area is embraced, including an acknowledgment of country, building signage in Woiwurrung language, facilities named after indigenous community leaders and internal feature walling designed by indigenous artists.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The Yarra Ranges Council Civic Centre is a sustainable building with emphasis on practical and passive sustainability systems. From the outset, the redevelopment focused upon the retention of existing built fabric to reduce its construction carbon footprint. The project demonstrates that creative adaptive reuse of existing built form can be achieved with innovative outcomes while greatly reducing the ecological impact of new construction.

The Civic Centre was constructed to be 100% electric with no fossil fuel connections, powered through a 100kW rooftop photovoltaic and supplemented by a supply contract with a green energy provider. Provisions have been made to allow for future installation of a further 50kW of generation. Further, the building was designed to function with an energy demand of less than 70kWh/sqm/year.

The new western wing of the Civic Centre incorporates a sustainable façade focusing on solar orientation and thermal mass. Glazed facade areas are optimized to prevent excessive thermal load, with externally located adjustable venetian blinds providing solar shading and glare control. Night purging of the interiors is delivered by façade grilles and the Building Automation System to moderate internal conditions across the seasons, and reduce the buildings operational energy costs. Water consumption is targeted to be 1,060kL of mains water per year, with provision on low usage water fittings and rainwater collection tanks sized to capture a target of 1,100kL per year. Within the landscaped areas, water sensitive urban design elements have been included to filter and detain site stormwater before discharge into existing systems. Vegetation native to the local area was preserved and augmented to support the unique ecosystem of the region.

Architectural Design 2023 Finalists

Victorian Heart Hospital

Conrad Gargett / Wardle

Pitch Music and Arts Festival - Main Stage

Ambrose Zacharakis / Henry Howson / Untitled Group

Wurun Senior Campus

Designed by GHD Design + Grimshaw / Commissioned by The Victorian School Building Authority / Clients: The Victorian School Building Authority, Collingwood College and Fitzroy High School / Builder: BESIX Watpac / Property Advisory and Project Management: SEMZ

Darebin Intercultral Centre

Sibling Architecture

Dunlop Avenue, Ascot Vale - Big Housing Build

Hayball / Tract (Landscape Architect) / Homes Victoria

Victorian Family Violence Memorial

City of Melbourne / Department of Families Fairness and Housing / MUIR+OPENWORK / Sarah Lynn Rees, Indigenous Advisor JCB Architects / Phil Gardiner, WSP

James Makin Gallery

Tristan Wong (Architect) / James Makin / Axiom / Hugh Makin

Delatite Cellar Door

Lucy Clemenger Architects / Delatite Wines / Landscape Architect - Tommy Gordon, Art Gardens Australia

Queenscliff Ferry Terminal

F2 Architecture / Searoad Ferries

The Roundtable

Common / Enlocus / RMIT Architecture / Commissioned by City of Melbourne

Lilydale and Mooroolbark Stations

BKK Architects / Kyriacou Architects / Jacobs / ASPECT Studios

Warrnambool Library and Learning Centre

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

Aboriginal Housing Victoria

Breathe Architecture / Bowden Corp / Tahnee Edwards / Human Habitats

Nightingale Village

Architecture architecture / Austin Maynard Architects / Breathe / Clare Cousins Architects / Hayball / Kennedy Nolan

Wesley Place

OCULUS / COX / Lovell Chen / Charter Hall

Melbourne Holocaust Museum

Kerstin Thompson Architects / Melbourne Holocaust Museum