The former headquarters of Australian Unity in Melbourne is being transformed into a residential aged care facility in an adaptive reuse project.

Located opposite Albert Park Lake at 114 Albert Road, South Melbourne within Australian Unity’s precinct, this transformation by multidisciplinary design practice Fender Katsalidis will see the 15-storey office tower being converted into a high-rise aged care building. The new aged care facility will sit adjacent to retirement living building, The Grace, also designed by Fender Katsalidis.

Adaptive reuse in aged care is not entirely new, says Jessica Lee, principal at Fender Katsalidis. However, it’s the scale of this project that makes it unique, signifying a new wave of the vertical aged care typology in Australia.

“We are excited to be leading the way for urban renewal by converting a high-rise office building to aged care in a new phenomenon that fills a gap in the market,” Lee said.

“This project is innovative through the ability to take a 15-storey tower and give its entirety a new life as purpose-built and high-care accommodation for age-qualified Australians.”

The adaptive reuse made sense for the property since Australian Unity was both the owner and former occupier of the building, as well as an aged care provider, she observed.

“It’s unique and not something that could easily happen again and again, despite it being environmentally sustainable and offering aged care services right next to the city.

“To ensure that well-located projects can continue to be delivered, it’s natural for operators to be looking at adaptive reuse and verticality that offers a smaller footprint impact,” Lee added.

The upcoming residential aged care facility will offer both household model aged care and assisted living apartments, fulfilling the vision of a vibrant and connected community for older people. Apartment style accommodation and large suites will enable couples to stay together.

“The aged care building will provide a choice of accommodation and services, adaptable to meet individual and changing needs. The opportunity for restaurant dining will be provided in a beautiful and age friendly setting and will enable residents to take in stunning rooftop views,” Beverly Smith, executive general manager – residential communities at Australian Unity, explained.

Project highlights include onsite wellbeing and rehabilitation facilities, a street-facing cafĂ©, cinema, kids and grown-ups’ media room, and a range of common and outdoor spaces overlooking the lake and bay. The facility will also be linked to The Grace, providing a continuum of care model that would allow many of the retirement living apartments’ residents to move into the aged care building later in life.

According to Lee, designing around the existing structure of the 50-year-old office building encompassing a central core with offices around that plate, represented a major challenge for the architects.

“Commercial and aged care buildings are inherently different in that they each serve a distinct purpose; however, where they are similar is through communal engagement, which we are weaving throughout the precinct.

“We are creating a sense of vertical connectivity by developing smaller neighbourhoods within the single building, inserting new openings within the existing structure and enabling connection through sight, sound and smell. The renewal of the tower prioritises accessibility and safety,” Lee explained.

The thoughtful adaptation of the former office building will deliver Australian Unity’s unique Better Together small household model, which they have been designing, building and operating for over 10 years.

The aged care building is expected to be completed in October 2022.