Since 1953, Vincent Care’s flagship social housing facility Ozanam House has been an important part of Melbourne’s response to homelessness, providing support to vulnerable people in the community. The redevelopment by MGS Architects has transformed the building into an integrated homeless resource centre and accommodation facility that also offers health and wellbeing services, all on one site.
The thoughtful design emphasises Vincent Care’s innovative and human-centric care model through a series of connected ‘neighbourhoods’ inside the building. The 11-storey tower accommodates 134 apartments on the upper levels, as well as administration spaces, a resource centre, health clinic, gym and library facilities, and a commercial kitchen serving both the Ozanam House residents and the wider community.
“We’re strong advocates for social and community housing, and this project has created a social uplift with a building that is truly forward-looking,” observes MGS Architects director Joshua Wheeler.
MGS has combined clever spatial planning and material articulation to deliver welcoming and transparent spaces, as well as areas of high security and opportunities for discretion, solitude and retreat in a friendly, accessible and safe environment.
The striking facade of the building on Flemington Road stands out prominently, creating a gateway to the city of Melbourne. In response to the low scale residential topography of leafy North Melbourne, the architects have ensured that the bulk of the building is reduced through shifts in form, materiality and transparency.
A palette of high quality, varied and tactile materials convey robustness without suggesting an ‘institutional’ character. Krause Red Blue bricks from Robertson's Building Products anchor the first four levels of the building.
“We really like using Krause bricks, they have a lovely warmth to them that’s welcoming, and a traditional nature about them that speaks to the residential neighbourhood,” Wheeler commented.
The eye-catching brickwork on the podium consists of custom Krause Red Blue bricks, inverted and reversed to create a repetitive, highly textural scale pattern. Original and engaging, the brickwork speaks to the bronze perforated screens – shaped like dragon scales – on the upper balconies.
“They’re different materials, but have similar characteristics, pattern and uniqueness to them,” Wheeler said.
Above the brick scale pattern, every 10th Red Blue brick is a special, producing a softer weave higher up. The brick design continues inside with Red Blue brick tiles framing the lift well to form a strong connection to the textured façade. Grampian Blue bricks in the central courtyard create a strong monolithic form in contrast to the texture of the Red Blues.
Bold colours and patterns are balanced with natural, earthy materials throughout Ozanam House to introduce a sense of stability and a homely vibe. Green dominates the palette: The hooded bronze screens on the balconies invite the green cladding on the upper walls to filter through, while a landscaped courtyard and a three-storey vertical garden provide community spaces for the residents. On the lower rooftops, covered succulents and plantings generate a lush green outlook for residents from their windows, also providing a visual connection to the nearby Royal Park.
MGS Architects’ innovative design for Ozanam House creates a real sense of hope for Vincent Care’s clients and has the potential to influence subsequent responses.
At its opening, Minister Richard Wynne described Ozanam House as “the future of homeless intervention going forward”, adding that the residents who would be living here “deserve the best".
Photographer: Trevor Mein