After Black Saturday devastated the Yarra Valley in 2009, Cistercian monastery Tarrawarra Abbey decided to build a mixed-use concrete bunker that could serve as a place of refuge in the event of fire. 


From the architect:

Tarrawarra Abbey is a Cistercian monastery set on 400 hectares of grazing land at Yarra Glen in Victoria’s beautiful Yarra Valley, 60 kilometres North-East of Melbourne.

The devastating bushfires of Black Saturday, on the 7th of February 2009, saw searing grass fire, driven by fierce winds, blaze across the property killing 40 head of beef and destroying several hectares of pasture. The fire passed dangerously close to buildings in which several members of the abbey’s community sought shelter.

Following a review of the fires, a brief was developed to build a secure fire shelter where the abbey’s monks and other members of the farm and community could take refuge in the event of future fires. The result is a concrete bunker growing out of a gentle slope, sited in close proximity to some of the farm’s residential buildings. The building is made of boarded insitu concrete, slightly folded and bent as it grows out of the slope. Formwork using oregon boards laid horizontally was used to obtain an organic finish to the grey colour of the concrete, which is expected to soften as it weathers and ages.


A sloped planted green roof makes the building all but invisible from certain aspects while protruding copper shrouds with fire screens add to a sense of movement in the building. These too, will soften as they weather.

Orientated to north, the building rises 4.5 metres and it is here that a series of concrete blades, also cast insitu, have been placed to focus views over the valley and distant landscape. The blades have also been designed to temper the harshness of the northern sun as it shifts across the building through the course of the day.

Designed to double as a multi-purpose centre for the abbey’s monks, the interior of the building contains a communal gathering space, a tailor’s workroom, gymnasium and an archive store.