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Rural Australia has its share of extreme weather. In 2011, a catastrophic flood devastated the isolated town of Warmun, located 3,000 kilometres northeast of Perth. As a result, 300 Gija people lost their homes, including the residents of the area’s seniors centre.

The replacement facility, built by Iredale Pedersen Hook Architects, far exceeds what was there before structurally. But it also goes much further socially, by providing a home where elders can celebrate their cultural practices, all within a lively, expressive form. In various ways, the centre actively and passively integrates the elders with community members of all ages.

Besides private men’s and women’s living quarters (accessed by wide wheelchair-friendly ramps), there is a large central courtyard with a fire pit for cooking, sacred ceremonies, and gathering with family. The project has also been sited next to a school to spark intergenerational contact, allowing the elders to pass on their language and lore to the younger generation. Local children even drop by to play in the six waterfalls that emerge from the centre’s integrated rain gutters.

Nature, too, is woven into the fabric of the building. To address the hot sun, roof-shaded verandahs and vertical polyester shading panels filter natural light. The volumes are spaced apart to create breezeways, and, because it’s so hot during the day, the firm integrated an extensive lighting system to create inviting and safe areas for nighttime activities. Everything down to the plants grown on site – used for traditional medicines — celebrates the residents’ culture.

An elegant project, the building is crafted out of corrugated steel, steel tubing and concrete slabs – ordinary materials that could have easily ended up creating something depressingly institutional. That is not the case at all. Now built to stand up to the next major flood, the centre articulates a human-focused vision that embraces an entire community.

About the firm: Iredale Pedersen Hook Architects is committed to projects that are environmentally responsive and visually compelling. Winning over 70 national architecture awards over the past 15 years, the firm has touched every corner of Australia, from the wine regions to the desert to the suburbs.

What the jury said: “So much has been accomplished here, with very few resources and so many program requirements.” John Tong

Location: Warmun, Australia

Firm: Iredale Pedersen Hook Architects, Perth, Australia

Team: Finn Pedersen, Adrian Iredale and Martyn Hook, with Jonathan Alach, Rebecca Angus, Layla Cluer, Caroline di Costa, Matt Fletcher, Joel Fuller, Khairani Khalifah, Jason Lenard, Mary McAree, Drew Penhale, Nikki Ross and Jonathan Ware

Winner: Social Good
2016 AZ Awards Winner: Social Good Award

The Walumba Elders Centre in Western Australia elegantly responds to the needs of Aboriginal seniors, and to the rugged surrounding landscape.

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