Offering community services for youth is not exactly glamorous business, and even less so, we imagine, when you’ve operated for over a decade out of a converted public restroom facility, as has Weave (formerly South Sydney Youth Services). But now the organization — which offers counseling, health and education programs to young people, many of whom are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander — is operating out of newly renovated facilities in Sydney, Australia, thanks to a green renovation.
Architecture Australia reports that the City of Sydney has established a reputation for “enlightened upgrades to inner-city public spaces” in recent years. In keeping with that trend, the city held a small, invitation-only competition to convert the building into a contemporary workspace for both Weave and Headspace, a national youth mental health organization. The city’s design brief stipulated that the new facility require little or no increase in the original building’s footprint, to minimize the impact on the skate park at the Waterloo Oval, which it overlooks. It also suggested that designers make their proposals vandal-proof, and incorporate a green roof as a way to improve the building’s visual impact for residents of surrounding high-rise residential buildings.
Collins and Turner won the competition with a simple design that addressed the area limitations of the brief by creating a central courtyard around which the various programs of the two organizations could operate. Their design also makes use of a dramatic folded pergola that sits independently of the building — it was, in fact, designed so that either the building or the structure could be removed or relocated in the future, without one affecting the other. But while the two remain united, the community center’s pergola makes it possible for Weave to use the roof space for a terrace. Planting beds on this terrace provide nooks for informal meetings and discussions, essentially doubling the usable space of the center.
And the brick walls of that old “toilet block?” They were retained wherever possible in this design, but you’d hardly know it, as they’ve been painted white and integrated with new concrete blade walls, forming the “pop-outs” of the building’s plan while supporting a post-tensioned slab above. This means that while the roof has become the cool place to hang out at the Waterloo Youth Family Center, no further internal columns were required.