Shellharbour Civic Centre opened to the public in January 2018. Serving as a hub for Shellharbour’s cultural and community activities, the building provides a state-of-the-art library, museum, auditorium, council offices and chambers. Designed with user engagement and inspired by the local landscape, Shellharbour Civic Centre is an inviting facility that serves as great reflection of the community who use it.

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DesignInc commenced work on the project in October 2015 in collaboration with project partners Lacoste + Stevenson. Focusing on meeting community needs, the design process involved user-group meetings and community-group presentations including a placemaking workshop managed by Place Partners. “The result was a desire by the community to have a building that was nature focused and less formal. This affected all of our decisions in moving the design forward,” says DesignInc Director Richard Does.

The architecture is a subliminal representation of Shellharbour’s coastal landscape. A long and low volume with undulating roof profile sweeps across the site; a five-storey tower rises from the back of the building; and a plaza with grass and a water feature is in front.

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The exterior palette similarly draws from the natural landscape. Gabion wall cladding surrounding the carpark at the base of the building is filled with blue metal stones, which reflect the colours and form of the nearby escarpment, and the library and public spaces are enclosed with glass and timber posts to evoke the Illawarra forests. The white soffit accentuates the wave-like form of the roof, referencing the surf, and white cladding on the tower highlights its soft, rounded forms, suggestive of fluid clouds.

The tower accommodates council offices, while community spaces in the timber and glass volume address the civic square. This includes a library, museum, 350-seat auditorium, children’s interactive area and café.

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The interior material palette reflects the exterior, with neutral and bright colours inspired by moss, lichen, sand and rocks in the natural Illawarra environment. The polished charcoal concrete floor evokes the feeling of walking across the top of the escarpment; the walls are clad in timber to suggest the forest; and white round Sound-Scape discs are suspended from the library ceiling like clouds. “I first saw these at Heathrow Airport and decided these would be the best solution for the undulating underside to our wavy roof. They flow like sequins creating a frothy cloudscape,” Richard describes.

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Community artwork is integrated throughout the building, as well as pieces by Illawarra-based artists. A large wall sculpture by Warwick Keen is in the community lobby; graphic glass designs by Laura Noonan and Chloe Shelly depict water as it moves through the stratosphere; and a colourful steel sculpture by Justin Sayarath from Biotica was fabricated by Shellharbour Council’s depot staff.

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The open plaza by Turf Landscape Design in the front of the building invites community members into the library and public spaces. It provides a place of respite and play and a venue for assemblies, festivals and markets. Concrete seating is embossed with Aboriginal artworks by Steve Russel and the water feature includes a large brass bowl by Kim Williams that fills with water for children to play in.

“I’m really proud of the way people are embracing the centre. We know the building is functional and we think the space evokes wonder and embraces nature through views, natural light, and material choices,” says Richard Does. “General David John Hurley, Governor of New South Wales who spoke at the opening ceremony, was born in Wollongong, and he had a lot of positive things to say about the landscape surrounding Shellharbour, its growth over the years and how this building is a wonderful architectural expression of the Shellharbour community.”

The building is currently undergoing assessment for 5 Star Green Star As-built rating. It is on target and should be granted this year.

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