Birrong Respite Centre

AJC kicks off its latest Pro Bono project — a new respite centre in Western Sydney for My Home Disability Services.

On Thursday 12 October, 2023, AJC held an internal design competition to decide which of three schemes would progress into design development for a new disability services centre in Birrong, Western Sydney.

AJC has a long-standing relationship with the client, My Home Disability Services, having designed (in 2007) its Respite Centre at 41 Cooper Street in Birrong, also as a Pro Bono project.

The Respite Centre offers short-term stay for people with a disability, supporting their families with short breaks from the caring role. It mostly runs day programs with limited overnight stay facilities. In mid-2023, after My Home Disability Services acquired a nearby home (37 Cooper Street), intending to expand its offering with a new overnight stay facility, they again approached AJC.

My Home Disability Services is a charity organisation offering day programs, community support and skills training for adults living with a disability, to promote the rights and aspirations of people with a disability and enrich lives and roles in the community through the provision of choice, opportunity and innovative service design.

AJC’s team 3, presenting their scheme for the Birrong Respite Centre.

Running the project is AJC Studio Lead, Sarah Slattery, who works with Director John Whittingham across the spectrum of community and sports projects at AJC. Seeing the project not only as a worthy architectural brief, but also a great mentoring opportunity, Sarah organised an internal design review event with a jury of both in-house and external practitioners and the client.

The invitation to join the project was opened to all AJC staff. Three design teams soon formed and were given a comprehensive brief that included (among other criteria) as many bedrooms as possible – all at ground level – one shared bathroom for every two bedrooms plus communal kitchen, living and living areas, staff sleeping quarters, bathroom, storage and office.

It is also our hope that by ‘sharing the care’, we ease the burden on aging parents. —Maha Hafez, My Home Disability Services Centre Manager

On the jury was: Maha Hafez — My Home Disability Services Centre Manager, Peter Ireland, former AJC Director, Schandel Fortu (Director, Ethos Urban) and Jane Johnson (Managing Director, Smart Design Studio and former AJC staff member, who was on the project team for the existing Respite Centre). The President and Board members of the Australian Council of Women Affairs (ACWA) also joined in the final selection.

Aside from the teams presenting to AJC and the jury, other guests at the presentation included Dave Collins from Altus, who provided Pro Bono cost plans and feedback for the three design teams, and ACWA board members Abir Moukahal, Nahla El Ghazawi and Sowsan Khodr

Team 1’s winning scheme for the Birrong Respite Centre in Western Sydney.

The winning proposal came from the team of Ellen Ji, Paul Huxtable, Sarah Veas, Simon Rainsford and Wendy Lim, whose concept included a layering of stories, identifying connections and reframing persp­­­ectives of accessible residential care housing.

Their design divides the program into various functional zones from private bedrooms (seven in total) and public living spaces, kitchen and bathrooms, to back of areas for staff and carers — all with connections to private landscaped terraces and courtyards. Vehicular access to the site is split with the main drop off entry point on Cooper Road and access for service vehicles and deliveries at the rear via Moriarty Way. A key design element is transparency, both for safety and care, with sightlines established through the house, to its landscaped outdoor spaces.

Site and floor plan for the 7-bedroom respite centre scheme by AJC’s team 1.

Projects like this really demonstrate the capacity of architecture to impact people’s lives for the better, so, well done to the three teams on their work. —Peter Ireland, Jury Chair

Elevation of team 1’s winning scheme for the Birrong Respite Centre in Western Sydney.

Within AJC there is a culture of commitment to architecture with social purpose. Pro Bono projects are a great way for practices to involve their young talent while offering their expertise and resources to social organisations that may not typically engage with an architect for cost reasons. Next steps will be the community raising funds, and later, design development by the AJC team. Centre Manager, Maha Hafez was moved by the design thinking from all three teams and had this to say:

“I came to the role of Manager in 2009, but now, 14 years later, the Centre and the service is like my fourth child. I am very protective and still compassionate so I am excited to see how much further we can grow our service. When I googled pro bono architects back in 2009, I had no idea what I would find. I am so glad I took a gamble with my search because it led me to AJC.”

Accessible outdoor space a key to team 1’s winning scheme.

The three AJC teams

Team 1: Ellen Ji, Paul Huxtable, Sarah Veas, Simon Rainsford, Wendy Lim

Team 2: Beatrice Ong, Johanna Wang, Rio Murase, Sophie Corr, Tamara Watson, Tom Rogers

Team 3: John Gunnell, Gina Makkawi, Mav Khan, Simone Carmody, Sivansh Shah, Snigdha Udatha

At centre: Sowsan Khodr, Maha Hafez, Nahla El Ghazawi and Yasmin Shalaby. At Right, David Collins (Altus), AJC Director, John Whittingham, Schandel Fortu (Ethos Urban), Sarah Veas (AJC team 1), Jane Johnson (Smart Design Studio), Peter Ireland (Jury Chair), AJC Studio Lead, Sarah Slattery. At left: AJC team 1, Paul Huxtable, Simon Rainsford, Ellen Ji, Wendy Lim, as well as Ziad Masri Mahmoud Moukahal and Abir Moukahal from ACWA.