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Solution of the Month:

Worthy of Ophelia

Collins and Turner
Sydney, Australia

Redefining the green roof: An Australian community center wears a crown of tendrils.

By David Sokol
February 2014
Photo © Paul Bradshaw

The non-profit organization WEAVE-- Working to Educate, Advocate and Empower-- was founded in 1974 as South Sydney Youth Services. Parents living in this namesake part of inner Sydney established the outreach group to protect children they saw hanging out on the streets at night. The organization has since grown dramatically, now employing a staff of 34 and offering a range of educational programming and other support services for area youth.

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Until recently, however, WEAVE’s headquarters had not kept up with its increasing size nor sophistication. For 15 years, it operated out of a converted public restroom continually plagued by graffiti, located in Waterloo Park. A recently completed gut renovation of that building, by the progressive local firm Collins and Turner, has finally transformed the secondhand facility into a workplace fitting of the association’s mission.

In 2008, Collins and Turner was one of three firms invited by the City of Sydney to propose updates. Home to both WEAVE and the mental-health organization Headspace, the building is now known as the Waterloo Youth Family and Community Centre. “Our starting point was that we wanted to create a building that was graffiti-proof, and over time, visually merge the building and the park,” says architect Huw Turner. “The idea of wrapping the building in a veil of plants was our solution to both of these considerations.” With encouragement from city officials, the veil became a freestanding steel pergola. The finished product envelops the community center, and rises above the existing concrete-and-brick volume like a crown.

“We realized that because the second skin wasn’t fulfilling any kind of weather protection, conventional approaches to form were not necessary, and we were free to create something more abstract,” Turner explains of the evolution. Shaped as an asymmetrical four-pointed star, the pergola sits on steel screw piles running approximately 39 feet deep; its steel frame was designed parametrically with Arup.

By raising the pergola’s spiky canopy more than 8 feet above the roofline, moreover, the design team reclaimed the rooftop as a foliage-shaded terrace. Measuring 2,152 square feet and accessed by a lobby stair comprising steel drainage gratings, the roof is used daily for meetings, events, and classes. Turner also reports that a cooking academy has begun convening on the roof. The school teaches neighborhood kids who are mostly of aboriginal descent about cooking with native plants.

The pergola features three different industrial meshes, with a super-tough variety surrounding the terrace to deter daredevil climbing. The modern lattice supports the flowering Pandorea pandorana and Orange trumpet vines, which are irrigated by water collected on the roof and from adjacent public space.

The original design brief advised maintaining the square footage of the building, so Collins and Turner employed concrete blade walls to create bay windows in all four corners and carved out a courtyard in recompense. Each point in the star relates to the blade walls, which also support an all-new post-tensioned concrete roof slab covering a column-free interior. “The courtyard serves to create an external gathering space at ground level, but also make the floor plate shallower, improving daylight and natural ventilation performance,” Turner says.

Indeed, the Waterloo Youth Family and Community Centre melds architecture and landscape in appearance and performance. The dual relationship extends well beyond the project’s walls, thanks to Collins and Turner’s collaboration with the landscape design studio Terragram. Reflecting the geometry of the building, triangulated metal sheets perforated in Braille are positioned throughout the site, retaining earth and providing a framework through which succulents grow.

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