Australian Unity is joining the adaptive reuse trend by converting its 1970s South Melbourne headquarters into an aged care retrofit.
The financial and “wellbeing” company appointed architects Fender Katsalidis (FK) to adaptively reuse the existing office building and transform it into a boutique retirement residence, made to resemble its neighbour, The Grace. Both aged care buildings are within Australian Unity’s Albert retirement living community precinct.
The development also included environmentally sustainable design consultants (ESD) Norman Disney & Young (NDY), facade engineers Inhabit, landscapists Site Image, and structural engineers Webber.
The building provides 14 floors of assisted living apartments and aged care residences with communal and private dining spaces and a ground floor café and reception to encourage social engagement, independence, and mobility.
Ryan Banting, executive general manager of social infrastructure at Australian Unity, said the building will demonstrate how ageing building stock can be transformed for meaningful new uses.
According to Banting, The Alba proves that there is a great opportunity, and considerable commercial viability, in converting ageing and unused buildings into meaningful vertical communities.”
According to the design firm, the building was particularly challenging to convert because the building was only partially documented. Engineers had to be engaged to ensure its structural standards were up to contemporary building codes while allowing design considerations to convert a dated office into an appealing residence.
FK’s principal, Jessica Lee, said the building required careful scientific balancing when adding and subtracting.
“In contrast to The Grace, which benefited from established floor-to-ceiling windows, The Alba had an unfathomably solid north-facing concrete wall. We strategically punched it with as many holes as we could and supplemented it with thin, lightly -tinted glazing to heighten its transparency,” Lee said.
“Simultaneously, a lot of weight was added to the building, within the core of the structure and at its base, in careful balance with the concrete that was being cut out. Eventually, this stacked up to equate to about 200 tonnes of extra steel, or 50 elephants in extra weight.”
Designed for the aged
Another special consideration, according to Lee, was ensuring that the building shared similar designs and functionality to The Grace, its sister building. It allowed residents to experience a smooth transition and continuity in comfort and familiarity if they moved to the new building while maintaining durability and accessibility.
“Corridor spaces are warmly lit and arranged to avoid extended lengths typically found in more clinical environments. Alongside homely furnishings, artwork and subtle way-finding interventions, the corridors can become quiet dwelling spaces for moments of respite,” Lee said.
According to Lee, promoting social engagement was a key consideration in the interior design of the building, with the first six levels of the tower designed with a three-storey opening to allow residents to find and meet those on other floors. The building also includes a theatre, library, outdoor terrace, and a rooftop garden.
The building is another in FK’s portfolio of “re-lifing” towers and adaptive reuse projects such as Midtown Centre, 90 Collins Street, and Buxton Contemporary.
Envisioned as sister buildings, the interior of The Alba is a seamless extension of the design language established by FK at The Grace, sharing the same DNA of elegance and functionality. The design continuity ensures residents experience a smooth transition into The Alba, surrounded by a sense of comfort and familiarity.
“The strand of familiarity was what we were asked to carry through the veins of the interior finishes of the building, resulting in the creation of high-end luxury interiors with added durability and accessibility,” says Lee.
Chosen for their residential quality, the selections of materials, fittings and finishes played an important role in achieving lightness throughout the spaces, creating a sense of warmth through the use of natural materials, texture, and injections of colour.
“Corridor spaces are warmly lit and arranged to avoid extended lengths typically found in more clinical environments. Alongside homely furnishings, artwork and subtle way-finding interventions, the corridors can become quiet dwelling spaces for moments of respite,” says Lee.
The promotion of social engagement, independence and mobility is enabled through the accessible design and adaptive functionality, which extends into the communal and amenity spaces spread throughout the building.