Geelong Library & Heritage Centre. Image John Gollings

There is not a massive tower to be seen amongst the winners of the 2016 National Architecture Awards. Instead, the winners announced last Thursday by the Australian Institute of Architects showcase what can be achieved even on a strict budget when people and place are at the centre of the design equation.

Jury chair and AIA immediate past president Jon Clements said the judges discovered numerous projects that delivered admirable outcomes with limited means and demonstrated architecture’s value in delivering a public benefit.

“Throughout the judging it was evident that architects had clear commitments to their clients’ aspirations but also to environmental and social sustainability: creating solutions that explored invention in favour of fashion. It was an inspiring and refreshing experience,” Mr Clements said.

In addition to Mr Clements, who is a director of Jackson Clements Burrows, the jury comprised Rodney Eggleston, founding director of March Studio; Abbie Galvin, principal of BVN; Stuart Vokes, director of Vokes and Peters; and Fenella Kernebone, head of curation at TedxSydney.

Mr Clements said the sustainability category was one that provided challenges in the assessment process, as it is becoming clear that a commitment to sustainability should be an objective for all architecture and should be part of the assessment criteria for all categories.

“The consideration for the national council is that all projects should be up for evaluation [in terms of sustainability], avoiding the need for a separate and specific category.”

One of the major winners of this year’s Sustainable Architecture category was also overall the most awarded project. The University of Queensland Oral Health Centre by Cox Rayner Architects with Hames Sharley and Conrad Gargett Riddel won the Daryl Jackson Award in the Education category, in addition to a National Award for Sustainability and a National Award for Interiors.

The University of Queensland Oral Health Centre. Image: Christopher Frederick Jones

The judges noted that “environments dedicated to dental teaching and practice are often highly clinical, more about the machine than the individual and associated with fear and anxiety.

“However, unwavering attention to craft, material and form in a building of this scale creates a truly humanising experience, one that demonstrates both warmth and care.”

The building has a 6 Star Green Star rating, with sustainability initiatives including a strong connection to the outdoor environment, ample natural light, passive solar design, solar power, onsite water treatment and re-use of old building materials. Over 30 per cent of the building is naturally ventilated.

The design also aimed to address the human dimension.

The judges said the building proves that “even large institutional buildings can successfully deliver carefully detailed spaces while also tackling larger problems, in this case the stress and anxiety issues commonly associated with working in dentistry”.

“The suicide rate of dentists is more than twice that of the general population and almost three times higher than that of other white-collar workers, while the number one killer of dentists is cardiovascular disease, commonly linked to high stress levels.”

Part of the solution was ensuring the interior spaces respond to the climate and the surrounding eucalypt landscape. Consultation suites are not the typical confined spaces of dental surgeries but have been constructed with views outwards and through adjacent spaces.

Tonsley Main Assembly Building and Pods. Image: Sam Noonan

The named award in the Sustainable category, The David Oppenheim Award, went to South Australia’s Tonsley Main Assembly Building and Pods by Woods Bagot and Tridente Architects.

Located 10 kilometres south of Adelaide’s CBD, the Tonsley project is an adaptive re-use of a former Mitsubishi plant. The eight hectare structure has earned a 6 Star Green Communities rating. The design retained and re-used a substantial proportion of the existing structure, which is being transformed into a series of adaptable pods, meeting spaces and parks beneath the roof structure.

Sustainability initiatives include sustainable energy, water-sensitive design, internal and external landscaping, passive ventilation and natural lighting. Interconnected paths for cycling and walking and access to public transport have also formed part of the planning.

The development is also to become a “Living Laboratory” for low-carbon precincts under a joint collaboration between Renewal SA, the CRC for Low Carbon Living and the University of South Australia.

Another National Award in the Sustainability category went to Northern Beaches Christian School (NSW) by WMK Architecture. An 11-metre high 3000 sq m prefabricated steel canopy connects existing classrooms and new learning spaces in the form of multi-level pavilions and outdoor learning areas.

The project also incorporated renewable energy generation, rainwater harvesting, intelligently controlled lighting, ventilation and shading. Students can monitor the building’s performance and teachers can incorporate information from the monitoring systems into teaching programs.

The big gong, the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture went to the Geelong Library & Heritage Centre (VIC) by ARM Architecture, which also snagged a National Commendation for Interiors.

“In recent decades libraries have emerged as critical public spaces in successful cities around the world,” the jury said. “This extraordinary project demonstrates the capacity of libraries to provide important places of exchange, not just of knowledge and information, but also of public social life, cultural values and shared experience.

“ARM Architecture has designed a vibrant and energised vertical village where the community can meet, collaborate, engage, learn and celebrate and an indication of the success of the new library is readily apparent in its exceedingly high level of patronage.”

In the Commercial Buildings category, the Harry Seidler Award went to AHL Headquarters – 478 George Street (NSW) by Candalepas Associates.

AHL Headquarters – 478 George Street. Image: Brett Boardman

The jury described the infill project on a narrow and restricted inner-city site as a “refreshing counterpoint to the prevalence of the large-curtain-walled office towers”.

The building features rounded sandstone blade columns and a large picture window that cantilevers over the State Theatre and provides northern sunlight and views into the office spaces.

5 Martin Place (NSW) by JPW & TKD architects in collaboration won a National Award in the Commercial category.

The repurposing of the 1916 “Money Box” building with its interior refurbishment and restoration and extension of the light well in the centre of the building, and the new office tower that rises above from the rear of the site, also took home a National Award in the Heritage Architecture category.

“Complex urban, heritage, structural, commercial and procurement imperatives are all addressed with apparent ease, resulting in a refined and proud new addition to Martin Place’s streetscape and Sydney’s skyline,” the jury said.

The main award in the Heritage category, the Lachlan Macquarie Award, went to The State Buildings (WA) by Kerry Hill Architects and Heritage Architect: Palassis Architects.

The State Buildings. Image: Angus Martin

The former government offices have been repurposed as a mixed-use development comprising a hotel, retail, and food and beverage outlets.

“The State Buildings in Perth are an exemplar model of adaptive re-use,” the jury said.

“Generous and thoughtful planning has allowed the preservation of much of the original building fabric. The original facade, roofs and a number of interior spaces have been very carefully restored, involving extensive research and significant expertise.”

In the Education category, The Mandeville Centre, Loreto Toorak (VIC) by Architectus took home a National Award.

“Its fine form and refined use of materials are controlled and restrained, softened and unified by natural light, constant connection to garden and courtyard views and the use of timber detailing,” the jury said.

In the Interior Architecture category the major award, the Emil Sodersten Award went to Canberra Airport Hotel (ACT) by Bates Smart.

Canberra Airport Hotel. Image: Rodrigo Vargas

The jury said the seven-storey circular void with its five circular skylights in the centre of the building, which forms the entrance, lobby and atrium is comparable to the Guggenheim in New York or the Pantheon in Rome in terms of its scale.

“But this is not a museum, or a religious edifice, but rather a commercial building, where net lettable area and gross floor area are usually the primary drivers. To be able to build a void, or really to not build at all, in this manner in any modern building is exemplary,” the jury said.

“The fact that this is an airport hotel makes it even more admirable and award-worthy.”

  • Find more details on all the winners and commended projects here