Winning the 2013 BPN Public Building & Urban Design Award, The Wayside Chapel (TWC) by environa studio is a building that wears its heart on its sleeve.

Honest, simple, durable and hardworking – just like its occupants – sustainability was a considered element in every design decision.

This Potts Point-based chapel is an independent arm of the Uniting Church, a charity that provides welfare, essential health and related services, meals, clothing and shower facilities.

Designed pro bono by Tone Wheeler, environa studio took a ‘3L’ – long life, loose fit and low impact – approach with this project.

Firstly, the main structure of the brick exterior and concrete columns, walls and floors will last for over 100 years, helping the building to stand sustainably through the test of time.

Having provided social services for almost 50 years, TWC is now able to operate in a purpose-built, long life building, allowing it to expand its services to the whole community.

At the same time, the fit out and services were ‘loosely fitted’ for ease of repair and replacement within the next 15 to 25 years. This reflects the architects’ moto of ‘use a spanner, not a hammer’.

In this instance, future flexibility and adaptability were paramount, and almost everything had to be able to be changed.

Finally, all materials were chosen for their low environmental impact during their origin, and manufacturing, use and recycling stages.

The new building now houses a plethora of facilities, including cafes, lecture rooms, offices, and a chapel, theatre, and commercial kitchen. The existing brick building was refitted for the op shop and offices.

Thermal comfort is provided through ‘building conditioning’.

Insulated thermal mass of exposed concrete floors, walls and ceilings are entirely double wrapped in reflective and bulk insulation. Warmth is derived passively from three gas-boosted solar thermal panels on the roof, which collects heat to be stored in the concrete floors.

‘Coolth’ is achieved through night flushing via two giant roof mounted fans, a passive fresh air ventilation system using operable windows, cross ventilation and mechanical fans, and tempered air used for only the hottest days.

Further ESD initiatives include a green roof which grows vegetables and fruit served in the public cafĂ©. The building’s energy system is also boosted with a 10kW expandable PV system.

Rainwater is collected, stored, solar heated and used sparingly, mostly being recycled into the garden. Ninety solar tubes on the roof, with gas boost, provide hot water for the free showers and the floor heat.

“We used every single passive and active ESD system we knew of; not invention, just utilisation,” said director of environa studio, Jan O’Conner.

Since being built, TWC’s programs have tripled, with some usages experiencing a ten-fold increase. However, energy and water bills have not substantially risen. Most importantly, there has been improved staff satisfaction, with absenteeism down by 50 per cent.

“The Wayside Chapel has a refined and responsible sustainability design, catering for human comfort predominantly through natural ventilation and passive systems,” noted the jury.

“Located within the built, bustling area of Kings Cross, it has an awareness of how communities should live.”