New McAuley House designed with women in mind

Architect Paul Hede set out to design the new McAuley House on Pickett St to particularly meet the needs and wants of women who would reside there. His enthusiasm for good design was matched by our Board’s determination that this would not be an institutionalised setting.

“Many buildings that are designed for the aged, or people with a disability, actually work for the staff but mean residents live in a rigid plan. I have been in several aged care facilities recently and see the long corridors that make it more efficient for the staff, but when the residents leave the communal space they often disappear into isolated little dark rooms. This is certainly not the case with Pickett St,” Paul said.

Pickett St is all about light, community spaces and providing each resident with a bedroom that is bright, welcoming and has a balcony, which brings the outside world into the private space.

There are no long corridors with bedrooms off each side away from community life. It’s a challenge to get right the balance of privacy and inclusion and residents will soon be able to pass judgement as the building nears completion.

Victoria’s first purpose built accommodation and support hub for women who are, or who have been homeless, at 1-3 Pickett St, Footscray, will be officially opened on November 30. The new $11 million building has been largely funded through the generous support of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea and with $4 million from the Victorian Government.

“We designed this building wanting to give the residents a sense of control over their environment and not forced to live in a rigid space that worked for staff, but not so much for residents,” said Paul, who established Hede Architects in 1989.

The ground floor houses much of the administration, training rooms and associated services such as the Royal District Nursing Service staff. The building features bedrooms and living areas on the top three floors. Each of the 25 bedrooms features an inside and outside space. Paul hopes that the wires running up along the exterior of each balcony will support plants and bring a sense of garden greenery to each of the residents. Each resident, has a balcony with a small planter box.

One of Paul’s favourite features is the rooftop garden on the fourth floor that features planter boxes and an enviable view of Melbourne. The rooftop garden is accessed by glass doors that open out from the spacious open lounge dining area.

This top floor also houses a large kitchen with spectacular views and is large enough to be used for training purposes. However, on a daily basis, it will be a social hub, where women can engage in the nightly conversations with Rosie, the cook, who is an important part of life at McAuley House.

Paul believes that while the third floor features the ‘master lounge and kitchen’ the lower two floors with bedrooms also have a sense of being houses in their own right with welcoming gathering spaces and a smaller kitchen.

Protruding from each of the floors is a front push-out room onto Pickett St that that runs up the front of the building. The pushout room is all windows, forcing natural light back into the rest of the building. On the second floor the protruding room features a winter garden where it can be fully open air in summer or a closed cosy winter room.

“This is a beautiful shape with a panoramic view on each floor. It means there is no chance that Pickett St will ever feel like a lot of rooms have been clustered into a space.”

Paul is passionate about the design features of the bedrooms and the potential they have to help the women transition to their own accommodation down the track.

“The bedrooms have been designed to give each woman a sense that she has her own little home. Some of the women, after a time at McAuley may progress to a small flat which this space will match in some ways. The balcony is an opportunity for the residents to grow flowers or to make the space their own,” he said.

“Apart from the balcony’s practical appeal it also gives the women the chance to become comfortable with the outside world, learn to relax in it and enjoy it from a position of safety and security.”

“I think the building, because it is big and claims a real space in the area, has the chance to be empowering for the women. They can look out over the rest of Melbourne while ‘standing on their turf’.”

Paul is looking forward to handing the building over to the residents and watching it come to life. He is hopeful that the women who live in it, many after years of homelessness, will enjoy it.

“I look forward to seeing the vines growing up the external wires and the women coming in and out of the building. That’s what brings it to life.”

19 October 2016