Architectural firm Grimshaw has been appointed to design a climate-resilient Wetlands Centre in Melbourne’s west which it claims will be an Australian first in biophilic and community co-design architecture.
In Graham Reserve in Altona Meadows, the Hobsons Bay Wetland Centre has a lot of bragging rights. It will incorporate a visitor centre and learning experience aiming to “enhance physical and mental wellbeing”, support cutting-edge research, celebrate Country and boost ecotourism while protecting the wetland habitat that is home to a threatened species of frog.
The $16 million centre is being designed in partnership with Indigenous-led Greenaway Architecture, McGregor Coxall, Greenshoot Consulting, Integral Group, Bollinger and Grohmann, and Slattery.
The location is an internationally-recognised RAMSAR-listed Cheetham Wetlands, where up to 65,000 migratory shorebirds visit from as far away as Siberia. The centre comes in collaboration with Hobsons Bay Wetlands Centre Inc, Deakin University, Ecolinc Science & Technology Innovations Centre (Department of Education & Training), Melbourne Water, Greater Western Water (formerly City West Water), Cirqit Health, and Birdlife Australia.
“A dedicated wetlands centre would increase awareness of the value and importance of our internationally significant wetlands and conservation areas, provide learning for all ages and inspire us to care for our natural environment,” mayor of Hobsons Bay councillor Peter Hemphill said.
According to principal architect Eduard Ross of Grimshaw, “The core of the project is regeneration of the land, and people’s health. It’s a facility focused on educating people about the natural environment, and also a place for health and wellbeing.”
The facility aims to create living laboratories for learning, teaching and cutting-edge research. “It brings together common assets into one space,” Mr Ross says. “Research, education, and a desire to bring green and blue health as a prescriptive offer for physical and mental health into the facility.”
On the advice of park wardens, the centre will be positioned between existing stormwater wetlands and natural saltwater wetlands, with a new regenerative ephemeral wetland positioned to provide a habitat for threatened frogs to shelter from predatory fish.
It is also a place to celebrate Country in collaboration with Traditional Owners, the Bunurong people of the south eastern Kulin Nation. “We worked closely with traditional owners. People will connect to Country and learn about Country through the First Peoples lands there. It’s unique in regards to what it will offer the community.”
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The Wetlands Centre will incorporate “regenerative, climate resilient and biophilic design principles,” Mr Ross said.
Grimshaw will incorporate resilience into the design and operations in terms of floods and rising sea levels and net positive water and energy coming from solar panels. The building sits on a regenerative ephemeral wetland project, where water runoff will be recaptured in the surrounding area.
Construction waste from a neighbouring sports ground will be incorporated into the design. “We decided to reuse it in the project. As part of the entry experience people will walk through a series of hills to enter the site. Gabion walls will form the facade with stones which will show the geological history of Melbourne as a whole. It’s about reflecting that history in the building. We’re using the waste to show its identity.”
“Biophilic” design in architecture is a concept of increasing connectivity between our built environments and the natural environment. The word “Biophilia” was first coined in 1973 by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm to describe “passionate love of life and of all that is alive.”
Mr Ross says that Biophilic design is about humans’ relationship to the natural environment.
“Rather than removing humans from their connection to nature – why can’t our buildings enable that connection?”
“It could be as simple as windows with views or external space that are protected, to the use of natural materials to create natural patterns in the building geometry that on a subliminal level connect humans to nature.”
Ross says no building exists independent of its natural context. Architectural designs are shaped by their environment, natural forces, and cultural conditions, and especially in these times are influenced by our need for climate-resilient building designs that look to the future and embrace their environments in a low-impact way,
“On a larger scale we say, where does the ephemeral wetland need to go, how does it relate to the building and how can our building wrap around and protect the functional ecosystem from the noise and light?
“It will wrap a protective arm around the landscape and look into it, so wherever you are in the building you look out into that landscape.”
“The beauty is that when you walk outside you will walk through a series of different wetlands – it is an interpretive experience for people to learn about wetlands through a logical set up.”
They are now at the funding stage of the project with an opening date estimated for the end of 2023.
“We’re inviting the state government to help fund this innovative, environmentally-significant, community-driven project,” Mr Hemphill said.