• P.O.V
  • By Emma Brain
  • Commune

Easy as ‘Pies

Images by John Gollings
Words by Amelia Borg
Images by John Gollings

The refurbishment and extension to Kalora Park Sports Pavilion in the perri-urban Melbourne suburb or Narre Warren is a joyful celebration of active participation and the important role that sport's clubs play in our community. It is the work of one of our favourite Australian studios, WOWOWA Architecture & Interiors. In a review commissioned for Commune*, Amelia Borg shows us that modest suburban architecture need not be beige and uninspiring.

Small community buildings are notoriously hard to build, many complicated and opposing forces need to align perfectly and all at the right time. To get anywhere near breaking ground these projects require budgets to be allocated, strong political will, overcoming countless regulatory requirements and unwavering community support. If there was ever a project to demonstrate how determined local spirit and unstoppable architects came together against these odds to deliver a new sporting and event hub for a community– it is the Kolora Park Sports Pavilion by WOWOWA Architects.

Located in Narre Warren, an outer suburb of Melbourne 38km southeast of the central business district, this growth corridor stretches out and borders the Dandenong Ranges National Park. Over the last twenty years this area has remarkably transformed from a semi-rural residential town to a suburb laden with row upon row of almost identical houses on winding suburban streets. Through all this change, one place for the community stood still, the home of both the Narre Warren Football and Netball clubs. This project delivers a large new club and event space through an extensive addition to the existing facilities.

The project came about through WOWOWA director Monique Woodward’s father, who had been member at the club for years and played for the club as a teenager. There was no budget to begin with, but after convincing the club to abandon the original plans they had drawn up by a draughtsperson, the architects got to work and hatched a plan to get the project moving.

 

The clients originally wanted to demolish the entire building and start from scratch, but WOWOWA cleverly decided that re-using elements of the existing slab and infrastructure could be a way get more value out of the limited funds.  The 770m2 addition provides a new flexible club and event room, anchored by a new bar and amenities which wrap around the existing facilities-in what Monique describes as a “big warm hug”.

Central to the design is a roof plane which appears to sharply fold into the facade, creating a generous under croft which allows for spectators to gather and cheer as they onlook onto the oval. This element, which appears as a heavy hovering mass, works hard to provide adequate shading to windows as well as cover over entries and a place to gather around the kiosk. Humble and pragmatic in its material palette, a masonry and timber base give the building a warm and durable grounding. Translucent polycarbonate ends give off a warm glow at night, and the building acts as a beacon in the suburban context.

Drawing from the teams’ magpie mascot colours, and as a nod to the streamers which adorned the original clubrooms, a strong black and white graphic wraps up the façade of the building and continues within the wavy cranked internal ceiling. The bathrooms are a colourful and exuberant surprise against the monochromatic pallet of the clubroom. Explosive tones of reds, pinks and blues charge across the ceiling- colours which were chosen in consultation with the netball team.

 

Explosive tones of reds, pinks and blues charge across the ceiling- colours which were chosen in consultation with the netball team.

Explosive tones of reds, pinks and blues charge across the ceiling- colours which were chosen in consultation with the netball team.

Beyond just updating tired facilities, this modest project has an important ambition in making a new and inclusive community space. The historical 60-year-old clubroom held within its walls the culture that existed at sports clubs at the time, a private and secluded space for men to gather, clash and drink. The original dusty clubrooms excluded families, children and importantly the netballers who also shared the facilities. In line with many projects of this nature occurring across the country, a key objective of the project was to update this historical legacy and reimagine the facility as a community hub that is accessible and welcoming to everyone.

In addition to creating a place for the sports teams to feel at home, the architects also thought about how the facility could give back to the club and help raise funds to contribute to the cost of build. Central to the proposition was the inclusion of a large event space which could be rented to the public and additionally help generate funds for the club.


Monique explains that all design decisions had to pass through the metric of being “cheap, fun and classy”; ‘cheap’ to meet the budget constraints, ‘fun’ to appeal to a wide-ranging demographic of community and ‘classy’ to be attractive for events and venue hire.

The dedication and perseverance of the architects is remarkable –their initial scheme was done with no fees to get the community on-side and excited. They spent some long nights and weekends painting the columns and bathrooms themselves to ensure all aspects of the design got across the line.  The architects lobbied government and were able to secure bipartisan support for the project, who contributed more than half of the total funds towards the build. The local Casey Council contributed additional funding, and the remainder was made up with hours of community pro-bono support.

The help of many associated with the club was enlisted and material donations came from a wide range of sources, including fridges for the bar and granite for the bar top. Players, many of whom are tradesmen and specialists contributed to the project and Monique says the thoughtful details and references to the club’s history and culture helped in creating an emotional investment for them in the project.  The expertise of Monique’s father who is a truss manufacturer was also brought in- a simple and cost-effective truss roof system was employed to ensure that the large event space could be column free internally.

Whilst Covid has been a slight deterrent in bringing people together, after the completion of the new facilities the club has seen a big increase in patronage. Modest in budget, this project is big in heart and ambition. Small moments of detail and delight tell a story about the community and enshrine the shared memories that extend beyond the football pitch.  The project celebrates the history of the club, whilst creating a shared space for the future of a community that includes all.

* Copies of Commune can be purchased through TheFulcrum.Press and all proceeds are directed to The Fulcrum Fund, a charitable fund that we established to support projects in First Nations communities.

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