Social housing in some circles is synonymous with a lack of amenity. While shelter is necessary for all, in some ways social housing can be neglected, often unassociated with the premium offerings of architecture and the built environment world. Scott Carver Architects’ work on the Wesley Edward Eagar Centre for Wesley Mission does away with common misconceptions to do with social housing, to fit beautifully amongst a gentrified Surry Hills locale.
The upgrade to the centre embodies Wesley Mission’s core principle, ‘to do all the good we can because every life matters’. Creating equality in the form of design and the deinstitutionalisation of social housing is paramount in the building’s refurbishment. The team at Scott Carver were able to provide a holistic collaborative approach, working closely with Wesley Mission to bring the project to life.
The refurbishment prioritised the dignity, comfort and wellbeing of its guests, placing these at the forefront of the design, from the upgrade of the heritage chapel and support service rooms within, to the internal refurbishment of guest rooms and new communal amenities.
The building’s facade acknowledges its past, while remaining relevant in a modern context. The facade design elevates the existing fabric with clearly decipherable yet complementing interventions. The remediated Heritage Chapel and its brutalist extension above, are in contrast with new lightweight bronze clad elements and glass recesses. The materiality, rhythm and vernacular of these, reference the historic layering of the facades on site. The cladding is perforated in places to provide light and ventilation to the spaces beyond, whilst providing a feeling of enclosure and safety.
The 1847 neo classical façade and entry sandstone colonnade is activated by a contemporary landscape design. The spotted gum and steel seating, both compliments yet is clearly distinct from the heritage fabric. Lush natives and drought resistant planting reflect the bustling, green Bourke Street the centre sits among.
The heritage listed chapel plays host to a variety of spaces designed to engage the wider community. The spacious vaulted chapel is broken down by timber, metalwork and glass interventions that create moments of respite, and informal and formal social spaces. These insertions give thanks to the heritage façade, maximise daylight, and improve vision across the space. An incision of glazing opens the ground floor to the laneway behind, bringing in light and air, but providing a sense of enclosure with the overlay of a perforated bronze screen.
The upper guest levels comprise 40 larger reconfigured rooms, with increased light and ventilation. Each room contains an ensuite in order to create a sense of ownership, improve dignity and to promote guest safety, as opposed to the building having a communal bathroom. The textural palette and colour schemes generate a soft, calm space of residential character.
A new lift, communal kitchenette, laundry and lounge is included on each of the guest levels to promote responsibility, social interaction, and ultimately, rehabilitation. Durable yet homely finishes are used, such as LVT flooring, composite stone benches and commercial grade bespoke furniture
The staff offices and break spaces on level 6 are opened to the refurbished garden terraces. These are calming spaces of retreat for clients and staff. A client herb garden is included along with planting and furniture to create a place of retreat for residents away from the bustle of Surry Hills. The result is a balance of community interaction and quiet relaxation. Here the perforated bronze screens provide safety, air and ventilation to the terrace, whilst providing a visual connection to the city beyond.
As Wesley Mission CEO and Superintendent, Rev Stu Cameron puts it, Scott Carver was able to capture the essence of the community service entity and translate it into a building designed to help those who need it most.
"I see care and commitment communicated through every detail of our refurbished centre. Scott Carver very quickly understood our ethos and has enhanced each space to communicate the value and worth we see in each person. Can a building change the way you feel about yourself? I like to think this one can.”