Hospitals and health services generally operate around a set of design principles focused on triage, observation, and hygiene – for this reason, they are perceived as public necessities, not amenities.
Driving by the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS), this perception will shift. The chaotic series of corrugated curves, hiding community gardens and workshops, offers a more holistic approach to health institutions.
The AWAHS building is the culmination of over 30 years of indigenous led non-profit work to establish a general Aboriginal health service in the area of Albury Wodonga.
The Mungabareena, Wandoo, and Woomera Aboriginal Corporations partnered in 2001, responding to the needs of Aboriginal health in the area, with the Health Service being incorporated in 2003.
Established in an existing structure in the middle of Albury from 2005 as a fully operational medical practice, AWAHS received funding in association with OATSIH and NSW Health in 2007 to design and build a new structure for broader services for the community
The new Centre aimed to provide health, wellbeing, and community services specifically targeted to the local indigenous community. This would reach beyond GP services to encompass chronic disease, mental, social, and emotional wellbeing, allied health, drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, as well as child and family healthcare.
In 2009, this centre was established on Daniel Street. Designed by JWP Architects, its broad scope was rationalised into a circular plan wrapping around a green courtyard, ancillary buildings running along the eastern wall of the site.
The facility is domestic in scale and approachable in expression, serving as a homely wellness centre rather than medical institution.
From the carpark, it is composed of various sections of corrugated steel in a patchwork of deep purple and exposed steel. In some sections, windows are playfully scattered, in others a ribbon of perforated steel panels wrap around the circular face inscribed with indigenous motifs.
This gesture serves as more than a cultural signifier for the facility, but as a protected veranda, one of a series of sheltered circulatory spaces that run around the main building.
The Centre itself is attuned to its environment, not simply through scale and program, but its passive design.
The circular courtyarded plan allows appropriate light to permeate all zones of the structure, shaded by large native trees, its roof scattered with solar panels.
This is taken further with the north east corner of the site given over to a community vegetable garden – incorporating health and wellbeing into public amenity.
While the majority of the structure is allocated to a Clinical Wing of medical, dental and acute treatment rooms, and a Programs Wing for a series of ‘yarning’ rooms, there is ample space for community gathering and activity space.
Senior community members also run a fully operational workshop or “Men’s Shed”, for hands to be dirtied or for those lacking a green thumb.
Albury Wodonga’s Aboriginal Health Service is yet another example of architecture that services the triple bottom line. It is honest and simplistic in its use of materials, to great effect. It provides a much-needed health and wellbeing service to the community that lobbied for its realisation.
And it incorporates a series of passive design principles while incorporating home-growing practices into its community services. It is in projects such as this, that humanism and environmentalism may actually meet.
Prepared by the Australian Architecture Association, AAA: researched, written by Jackson Birrell, photos and edited by Tone Wheeler.
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