Terracotta roof tiles in the Nullarbor profile from CSR Monier Wunderlich were selected as the principle roofing material by the architects responsible for designing the prestigious Solomon Islands High Commission in Canberra.
BHI Architects was awarded the contract to design the new diplomatic mission building with a brief to incorporate vernacular architectural forms unique to the Solomon Islands. While reflecting Solomon’s rich cultural traditions, the building also needed to serve as a modern facility.
The preliminary design work began in early 2009 when a BHI delegation visited Solomon Islands to meet with government officials for a comprehensive project briefing. The visit also provided the team with valuable insights about the traditional architecture of the region, building materials and their significance to village life.
According to Rosina Priest, lead architect for the project, the challenge was to reinterpret the relaxed tropical style of the Island buildings into the formal setting of the embassy in Australia’s capital city.
The final design was an inspiring interpretation of a typical Solomon Islands village.
Architectural highlights of the Solomon Islands High Commission:
- The ‘motu’ or fire pit forms the facility’s focal point along with the ‘toca’, a traditional outdoor meeting space
- Soaring roof lines typical of Island architecture dominate the building’s skyline
- Expansive roof areas, steeply pitched at 45º make up a significant part of the façade
- Main public building features a central gable with a roof pitch of 60º, which also forms the canopy for the entrance lobby with a towering timber-lined raked ceiling
- Extensive use of Solomon Islands art, carvings and paintings
- Landscape design includes authentic hand carved totem poles, each representing one of the nine provinces in the Island
Traditional Island architecture uses sago palm as the predominant roofing material but the Solomon Islands High Commission building required an alternate product more suited to its contemporary context as well as conduciveness to the extreme weather conditions in the ACT.
The design team chose Wunderlich terracotta roof tiles in the Nullarbor profile as the principle roofing material. Rosina Priest explained that there were three reasons for selecting these roofing materials: slimline low profile, enduring properties of terracotta and the tile colour (Riverstone), which was very close to the tones of sago palm.