The destruction of our cities and towns by natural forces, whether by ruinous floodwaters or fierce winds, strikes without prejudice, often without warning. Warmun, a remote community in the far north-east of Western Australia, home to about 300 Gija people, weaves a story of hope and courage as catastrophic floods in 2011 wiped out 80% of the town’s buildings and infrastructure in less than four hours, described as a one-in-300-year event. As the tides subsided, thankfully with no loss of life, the community grieved the loss of many of its buildings, including houses, the local school, health clinic, aged-care facility and arts centre.
“The flood had a very traumatic impact on the community, so the completion of this building was a seminal point in the recovery program, providing the opportunity to bring the elders back home.” — Finn Pedersen
A delicate process lay ahead – the recreation of a community’s home from a blank canvas involves traversing cultural sensitivities, community relationships and building resilient architecture. The architects Iredale Pedersen Hook (IPH) were tasked with Warmun’s journey to recovery and successfully balanced the community’s immediate necessities with long-term benefit. Reconstruction efforts took place in three stages over 12 months, bookended by the construction of the Walumba Elders Centre, handed over to the community upon completion in 2014. According to IPH partner Finn Pedersen, “the flood had a very traumatic impact on the community, so the completion of this building was a seminal point in the recovery program, providing the opportunity to bring the elders back home”.
IPH’s success can be attributed to their holistic design approach and their continuous dialogue between community elders and community care staff. At every turn aged-care requirements were balanced with cultural needs, resulting in a centre both embraced and loved by its community. The centre’s location adjacent to the local school was a strong signal of respect towards the community’s elders, celebrating their lives while allowing their lore and cultural knowledge to radiate across the community. Future proofed and protected from harsh environmental conditions, the ‘floating’ centre can be adapted to perform several functions; it is home to staff and to residents with support needs and includes a commercial kitchen, laundry, dining area and range of communal spaces. Despite nature’s impetuosity, the landscape is continually celebrated through the built form, with bedrooms overlooking tree canopies and outdoor fire-pits designed for the community to cook bush foods and partake in traditional ceremonies.
The unequivocal beauty of this project lies in its ability to distil a renewed sense of humanity within the greater community, encouraging care and sensitivity beyond the bounds of this project. The Walumba Elder’s Centre reframes our societal constructs of aged care, from the all too frequent place of isolation and depression towards a central role in the community, allowing elders to age gracefully while nurturing the sacred inter-generational transfer of culture, knowledge and history.
Warmun, Western Australia
Shenaz Engineer is a Researcher & Strategist at Right Angle Studio. A Brisbane local, her innate curiosity and fascination for cities has seen her live across Amsterdam, Shanghai, New York, Paris and now Sydney. With a background in both business and design, she continues to collaborate with curious minds from different industries across the world, and has received both national and international awards for her work. Fascinated by the intersection of culture, architecture, health and technology, she is passionate about creating inclusive cities and crafting places for people.
Photography by Peter Bennetts, courtesy of Iredale Pedersen Hook.