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Regional Revitalisation

Ballarat GovHub was officially opened on April 21. Partner Stefan Mee writes about the project's aspirations and reflects on how the design engages with its context and its purpose.

The completion of the Ballarat Gov Hub means that over one thousand workers can now move in, find their desk and perhaps contemplate the view of the town hall’s clock tower, or nearby church spire, as they start work.

Importantly, it is also a major step forward in the revitalisation of the entire civic precinct, once at the social heart of the local community. The Civic Hall itself hosted dances, balls and functions that were weekly events, before closing around twenty years ago. Still well remembered is the gig played by ACDC, in January 1977, as part of their Giant Dose of Rock and Roll Tour. With the Civic Hall recently refurbished, the Gov Hub makes new connections, encourages daily activity at ground level and encloses a landscaped park so that old and new work in tandem as a coordinated precinct.

At the level of the street, small brick chambers along the edges of the Gov Hub provide a tactile, engaging presence to house retail, community, and office activities. They visually tie the precinct together, brickwork being the dominant material of the old Civic Hall. The beautiful new bricks are a darker hue, variant in colour and made nearby in Stawell.

Set between the Civic Hall and the Gov Hub, a new glass conservatory with its own timber structure and brick floor creates a welcoming microclimate all year round for both workers and the public. There is a precedent for such structures in the city. In the 1890’s the Ballarat Botanical Gardens first established its well-known collection of begonias, imported from England at the time, many of which are contained in the gardens’ glass conservatory. This nod to the city’s history is amplified by interior planting, and its role as a connecting space between Mair Street and the central public park.

We know that timber sequesters carbon, whereas cement manufacture releases significant carbon emissions. For this reason, the Gov Hub’s primary structure is mass timber, a combination of CLT (cross laminated timber) and GLT (glue laminated timber), which radically reduces its carbon footprint. Inside, the revealed timber columns and ceiling beams organise each office floor into neighbourhoods where collaborative teams can be arranged.

The overall gable-roofed form has an outer skin of solid red zinc that appears to completely wrap the low rise five-storey building. Within the city it appears like a large rural shed, or an exaggerated house’s silhouette, depending upon your vantage point. A scattered window pattern externally acts like a viewfinder multiplied across the interior floorplates so inhabitants can catch glimpses of the many landmarks of the city and landscape beyond. To the south, a glazed end is sliced open to reveal shared gathering spaces including a timber lined attic. This makes visible the work of those serving the community.

The Gov Hub is a highly calibrated response to the city and its many stories. It has rethought the idea of the office, suggesting that it can, and should, make a civic contribution. Repairing public space, it includes new structures for anyone to use, one already earmarked for a local exhibition. More broadly, it takes climate change seriously and mitigates carbon emissions wherever it can. We look forward to seeing its positive ripple effect across the precinct as people begin to work, meet, and socialise inside and around the new Gov Hub.

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