THE Rumbalara Aboriginal Health Clinic at Mooroopna (two kilometres west of Shepparton) for the indigenous community has few of the traditional hallmarks. There is no signage, and the only reference to the Aboriginal people using this facility are the markings of gum leaves embedded in the concrete facade by artist Lyn Thorpe. The same outlines are found in the slump glass surrounding the entrance.
"We wanted to identify the building without using Western-style signage," says architect Steven Cortese, design director of Baldasso Cortese Architects, who worked closely with senior design architect Dev Mistry.
The new building, which forms a link to others on the site, was inspired by the Barmah Forest on the Murray River, where the indigenous community originally came from. However, the Goulburn River and its cracking river bank was also instrumental in shaping the clinic's form. "We wanted this design to have a strong connection to the earth, as well as the adjacent forest," says Cortese, who appreciated that the rivers provide not only food, but a source of spiritual cleansing for the community. The forest also provides protection from the elements.
Baldasso Cortese Architects' selection of materials suggests the natural river topography and nearby forest. The concrete panelled facade, for example, is stained in an ochre red hue and embossed with timber grain. Timber also features in the glazed entrance, suggesting tree trunks. And the dramatic roof, clad in fibro-cement sheeting, offers protection from the sun, like the nearby tree canopy. To minimise sun from the west, the architects included a series of elongated windows.
While cracks, such as on the riverbank, do not feature in the new structure, Baldasso Cortese's design comprises five separate units, linked by an impressive foyer. Irregular in shape, with corridors taking in the forest views beyond, the "whole" becomes stronger than the individual parts. "We also saw this building as part of a larger master plan, with the foyer being integral to future spaces," says Mistry. "All the components [enclosed spaces] are organic in shape. There are almost no right angles."
Unlike the medical rooms, which have been renovated in the older buildings, this latest addition is primarily used for dental treatment. As well as consulting rooms, there are an administration area, staff kitchen and amenities. And although each consulting suite offers a different view of the surrounding forest, one of the most impressive aspects is within the lobby. As well as a series of orchestrated sight lines through the clinic, there is a beautifully crafted faceted ceiling made from plywood. "We wanted to create texture and depth to the interior, not dissimilar to the surface found in a river bed," says Mistry.
The Rumbalara Health Clinic sits comfortably with the adjacent buildings from the 1970s.