Melaleuca Australia Courtyard Shade Structure, Darwin, Northern Territory - A Public & Culture project for Melaleuca Australia by Hames Sharley
Melaleuca Australia Courtyard Shade Structure, Darwin, Northern Territory - A Public & Culture project for Melaleuca Australia by Hames Sharley
Melaleuca Australia Courtyard Shade Structure, Darwin, Northern Territory - A Public & Culture project for Melaleuca Australia by Hames Sharley
Melaleuca Australia
Darwin, Northern Territory
AIA NT Architecture Awards - The Yali-McNamara Award for Small Project Architecture - 2024
AIA NT Architecture Awards - EMAGN Project Award - 2024

Melaleuca Australia's new roof structure has transformed an underused weather-exposed courtyard into a unique and idyllic communal gathering space for staff, clients, and the wider community to enjoy.

Each year, Darwin welcomes approximately 230 people in need of urgent resettlement. Melaleuca Australia, a not-for-profit organisation, supports humanitarian entrants, migrants, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to settle in the Territory.

Originally built in the 1960s as a Catholic convent for St Mary’s Cathedral, their existing building is a unique example of pre-Cyclone Tracy mid-century Darwin architecture. The gathering space at the heart of their building was underutilised due to the lack of shade and solar heat gain.

The brief called for the activation of their courtyard through a series of sails for shade and shelter. During the Concept Design phase, we considered the functional requirements, aesthetics and existing context, and proposed a permanent roof structure to enhance amenity.

The new structure has its own identity but highlights the aesthetics and functionality of the building’s breezeblock façade. It sits in harmony with the surrounding scale and materiality, and the fusion of old and new creates a successful juxtaposition. The robust yet lightweight butterfly roof makes a statement and gracefully soars over the existing courtyard, honouring and embracing the original building. The contemporary structure features galvanised roof framing and spotted gum timber details to soften and add to the architectural language.

The new shade structure uses tropical design principles of passive cooling to provide relief from the harsh Territory climate. The translucent Ampelite polycarbonate roof allows dappled, filtered natural light to permeate the courtyard while maintaining the feeling of being open to the sky, while providing strength in the design and protection from weather and solar heat gain. High openings and a central high-volume fan provide ventilation and movement of hot air.

Cost-effective lighting, with adaptable orientation and brightness, enhances the ambience of the space. Flood, wall and wall-washing lights illuminate the structure’s roof and columns, and create subtle highlights to existing and new elements. The result is a warm and welcoming space.

The roof has created a multi-functional space that can be used throughout the tropical seasons. While other event spaces in Darwin are contained within air-conditioned rooms, this project celebrates outdoor dining and capitalises on the outdoor courtyard space. During the day, the courtyard opens as a café for the public and a breakout space for Melaleuca clients. The café provides employment opportunities for recently arrived humanitarian entrants.

After hours and weekends, the covered courtyard converts into an event space accommodating up to 200 people, offering an opportunity for different groups to meet and connections to be built and fostered. The catering of events enables cultures and cuisines to be showcased, and the space becomes a place to share knowledge and conversation with the greater community. Profits generated from events and catering feed back into the organisation, enabling Melaleuca to expand and create greater awareness of the journey of migrants, and provide opportunities for integration into Darwin’s vibrant and multicultural society.

Melaleuca’s new courtyard roof is a truly collaborative community-focused project. From cost-effective solutions to in-kind contributions, the project exemplifies a community-driven approach where the greater good was always the guiding principle for the design and construction team.

By reimagining a weather-exposed space into a vibrant communal hub, the project not only enhances Melaleuca’s capacity to serve its community but delivers a space that fosters connection and belonging for all who visit.