Bay Pavilions is an Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre for Eurobodalla Shire Council located in Batemans Bay on the south coast of New South Wales. This project, designed by NBRS in collaboration with Donovan Payne Architects, was one of four finalists in the Public Building category of this year’s Sustainability Awards. Siniat proudly sponsored this category in the 2022 edition of the awards.

We spoke to Andrew Tripet from NBRS to find out more about the project.

Congratulations to you and your team for making the shortlist! Was sustainability always an important consideration in the design of this project?

Yes, right from the outset we had a client and project brief that really wanted to push for a great sustainability outcome. It was also front of mind for the local community down there as we discussed their aspirations for the project.

Over the last 5 years they have witnessed first-hand the impacts of climate change with the project commencing during a significant drought, which then led to the devastating 2019/2020 bushfire season, so addressing climate change was a very real and pressing concern.

We were also looking to connect the project to people and place, and the biophilic design language takes cues from the beautiful natural landscape that the community feels such an affinity with. Some clients are hesitant to push the envelope and sceptical about incorporating sustainable initiatives like mass timber due to fears about longevity.

We feel fortunate to have been able to work closely with Eurobodalla Shire, our consultants and contractor to give them the confidence that has resulted in a great architectural and sustainable outcome for the community.

What were the unique challenges you had to overcome with this project?

We had quite a few unique constraints on this project, as well as many of the same sorts of challenges that usually present like budget and brief alignment, differing stakeholder objectives and so forth.

I find it’s often the resolution of those challenges that can lead to great project outcomes. The site orientation and ecological constraints like bushfire and ecology buffers contributed to the organic pavilion design language. The poor geotechnical ground conditions helped get lightweight construction and a mass timber solution across the line.

Council also did a really amazing job of listening to the community and helping facilitate our conversation with them about their aspirations for the project, which helped us to find some great commonalities to wrap a vision around. I think if you can articulate that vision and have people embracing and contributing their piece to it, that’s when you can have really fantastic project outcomes. And we saw so much of that through the integration of public artists’ work, the local trades who were able to get involved with the build and the facility operators and staff who wanted to bring the vision to life.

There was a strong focus on community with this project right from the start and the original brief. Was ‘social sustainability’ a consideration in the design?

Absolutely, this project was all about trying to find opportunities to tie various layers of community into the precinct and have those play off one another. Council was keen to co-locate a number of facilities onto the site to create a more economically sustainable operational model.

Our design approach was to look at the synergies and benefits of this co-location as a far greater opportunity than just reduced operational expenses. I think what’s so exciting about this project is the way that the arts, leisure, health and recreation are allowed to rub off each other and coalesce. It makes for a really vibrant and dynamic community meeting place that invites you to participate and get involved in all of the different activities and events on offer. In terms of where social sustainability finds its place in this, we talk about a level of wellness that can be found individually or as a society when we can find that balance of mind, body, soul, and Bay Pavilions represents a wonderful example of what an inclusive and holistic community facility can look like.

This idea of wellness obviously also extends to people’s relationships and dependence with the natural environment. And we see this so clearly when that relationship gets out of balance and the sorts of flow-on social impacts that can have.

I think sustainability starts with creating an understanding and empathy with the natural environment. This building was designed to speak about the natural beauty of the Eurobodalla region, the rich culture and history of its people, and the vibrancy of life and activity that will occur inside. For example, the organic architectural forms were partially inspired by the connection and interdependence that the community identify with in their relationship to the ocean and The Clyde River (or Bhunduu – its traditional name).

The facade cladding and screens are referential to the local forests and granite of the region. It is our hope that this building will project something of the iconic and powerful landscape to those arriving in Eurobodalla for the first time, but also reinforce and remind the local community about their connection to the special place that they call home. And by doing this, we hope that it will share a broader message about sustainability and ultimately make for a more resilient and environmentally conscious community.

Sustainability is becoming a strong driver in architecture and the construction industry. Do you think manufacturers are doing enough to deliver sustainable building materials that are also cost-effective to the market?

I think the manufacturer and supply industry are certainly innovating and in many instances ahead of our policy makers in terms of bringing potential solutions to the table. Sustainable doesn’t always have to mean more expensive either; there are some great cost-effective materials, products, and approaches to construction that are increasingly being adopted to replace more conventional options.

Upfront material cost is just one aspect though, longevity, impact on operational costs, can we even afford environmentally to keep on using that resource, these questions should all form part of the equation as well.

From a designer’s perspective, the challenge for us can often be to cut through the greenwashing that sometimes occurs in the marketing of products and make that properly informed choice. In the next couple of years there will hopefully be some big improvements in creating a better baseline to judge these things as embodied carbon and lifecycle analysis of overall systems are increasingly considered as well as some of the current ratings tools and certificates that we have.

Hopefully we will also see some more rigour in terms of industry getting behind these tools, and government policy as well so that we get a greater uptake, which can drive costs down as you achieve scale. It’s great to have flagship projects like Bay Pavilions but ultimately real change is going to be driven by wider adoption of more sustainable practice across the whole building and construction industry.

What will winning an award with a sustainability focus mean for you and NBRS?

To be honest, we are pretty excited just to have made the shortlist amongst a field of so many wonderful entrants, and to be part of the dialogue looking to drive positive sustainability outcomes. The award would be a wonderful recognition of the project team and client’s commitment to achieving a significant sustainable outcome for the community.

We certainly hope to leverage off the successful sustainable project outcomes from this project and take them into the future work that we are undertaking. Completed projects like Bay Pavilions can help us as designers mount compelling arguments for the inclusion of sustainable design principles in the initial briefing and design stage of future projects, being able to talk about the value of the qualitative benefits and outcomes over and above simple cost-based frameworks that we often have to overcome as architects.

Image credit: All images photographed by Alex Mayes and supplied by NBRS.