Social Capacitor: Springvale Community Hub

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Since the 1970s, Australian cities have struggled with their identity, wondering where their center – or heart – is. Is this core better understood in the capital’s concentrated business districts or in the sprawling suburbs that make up the majority of their area? Does it reside in its colonial occupation or in the waves of 20th century migrants who have followed one another since?

As a suburb 22 kilometers southeast of central Melbourne, Springvale represents a highly distributed city form, both in its physical form and in its social makeup. It is one of the most ethnically diverse places in Australia, with a huge percentage of its population coming from various countries in Southeast Asia.1 It is not by chance. The Enterprise Migrant Hostel opened there at the end of 1969, providing accommodation and settlement services to migrants and refugees. Between 1970 and 1992, the hostel welcomed more than 30,000 arrivals, many of them coming from Vietnam and Cambodia to escape the conflicts there. People stayed in the area after passing through the hostel, creating the communities that are evident today. Although the White Australia policy was only recently dismantled into law, the council has welcomed newcomers. Local temples were built and Springvale’s central shopping streets began to emerge.

The suburb saw some highlights during the 1970s. On the night of December 2, 1972, after being elected Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam held a press conference from the living room of his home – a relatively modest suburban home in Sydney’s western suburb designed by an architect from Cronulla. Whitlam’s Labor government represented a time of intense interest in shaping cities through decentralization policies and strategies while at the international level planners proposed satellite towns as a solution to the rapid urban growth of the baby boom. However, the momentum of this policy of expansion was brief; economic crises and the emergence of deregulation triggered the contraction of the manufacturing sector, which had boosted growth in the urban peripheries. Globalization had started to put pressure on factories and the same logic favored cities shaped by the free market over government planning. By 1981, Melbourne’s planning strategies shifted from satellite growth to reconsolidation.

Outside, multi-use fields, play areas and gardens invite the community to get involved.

Image: John Gollings

Since then places like Springvale have been caught in a kind of metropolitan crossfire, with one architect after another mocking their presence, confusing aesthetic preferences with the ethics of how and where to live. These suburbs are dotted with design efforts that place the value of the suburb below that of the center. However, the new Springvale Community Hub in Lyon reverses this value and, rather than blurring the debate, gives it several sides. It is an architecture that both challenges and answers complex questions of identity.

Traditionally, public buildings have facades and facades; modernist objects generally claim their singularity. On the other hand, the Community Hub is an object with four distinct and deliberately articulated faces. A concave side bends and is reflected around beautiful river red gums, inspired by wood. Another side, facing Springvale Road in stacked glazed bricks, is a striped, waving flag, designed for a new, culturally diverse nation yet to be invented.

Without a single face, the building perhaps reflects the complexity of the migrants' experience.

Without a single face, the building perhaps reflects the complexity of the migrants’ experience.

Image: John Gollings

The opposing facade – with its huge red eaves and triple-brick courtyards – reflects the suburban garden environments in a giant version of the adjacent houses behind fences. Facing the entrance car park, this side becomes an infrastructural buffer, learning its language from the asphalt ground marked by lines and cat’s eyes. At times, these faces suddenly meet. Spliced ​​together at the corners, they are theatrically fragmented – less a collision, more precise pressing against each other. It’s a building with more than one face – just like the experience of migrants.

These four faces become all the more evident since it is an object in the round, in the residential space. Without a trace of New Urbanism streetsides, there is an embrace of large setbacks and parking plots. The library almost trades the land of the figure with buildings that it has replaced closer to the street; it is now at the center of a civic garden and the landscape does a lot of urban work. An axis of relaxed seating connects the street around the corner of the building, and large open gardens replacing the buildings have revealed new views of the renovated red-brick Town Hall, the former home of Springvale City Council proclaimed in 1961. space, I spent many games of basketball, two barbecues in action, and schoolchildren singing happy birthday under bright orange umbrellas. Above all, on the giant screen of the wall, COVID-19 health messages were delivered in Vietnamese. A new variety of roses – “Enterprise” – grows in the Spirit of Enterprise garden in the forecourt – a souvenir of the well-cultivated rose garden at Enterprise Migrant Hostel.

The interior of the customer service lobby is inspired by the Enterprise Rose, which grows in the Spirit of Enterprise garden in the forecourt in memory of the Enterprise Migrant Hostel.  Work: Material Thought

The interior of the customer service lobby is inspired by the Enterprise Rose, which grows in the Spirit of Enterprise garden in the forecourt in memory of the Enterprise Migrant Hostel. Work: Material Thought

Image: John Gollings

The interior of the Community Hub is large and spans two levels. Three vertically cut holes form informal rooms and voids, echoing the trees. This circular geometry goes against the linear geometry above, with its jagged skylights, but both serve to open up the space in each direction and diffuse very even daylight. The concave courtyard around the red river gums is present in much of the interior and filters more light thanks to its double screen. There are so many materials, so many surfaces – pockets of variegated spaces are forming everywhere, for different ages and different languages. But when the architectural language begins to dissolve, it is brought back under the general idea of ​​Lyon: that more is better.2 The pieces in the space are large and sturdy, like the big wooden rail that wraps around the voids. It is a building that takes root, does not touch the earth lightly.

Community centers like this are great social condensers and the Lyon building does whatever it takes to provide a great facility that also demonstrates environmental best practices. Beyond that, the dexterity and agility of the architecture express a city with a complicated identity. Travel restrictions of 2020, when Melburnians were forced within a three-mile radius of their homes during the pandemic-induced lockdown, amplified unequal privilege across the metropolis. Suburbs such as Springvale are still often seen as “suburban”. Thus, the consideration given to Springvale by this architectural work seems even more important. This complicated city remains a little uncertain of its identity – but it continues to search for its own language. Compositionally, the Springvale Community Hub says, “The world is like this. But could it also be like this? Or like something else? ” Since most of us (being non-indigenous) are migrants, these issues are worth considering.

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