Powerhouse Place | Public Realm Lab

Powerhouse Place | Public Realm Lab | Photographer: Tom Ross

2024 National Architecture Awards Program

Powerhouse Place | Public Realm Lab

Traditional Land Owners
First People of the Millewa Mallee


Public Architecture
Regional Prize (VIC)
Sustainable Architecture
Urban Design
Rork Projects
Project summary

Powerhouse Place is the most recent project to connect Mildura’s CBD and community to the Mighty Murray River. This important post settlement industrial site had fallen into disrepair. It has now been reimagined as a place for community, creativity and connection.

The project includes adaptive reuse of the historic powerhouse for events, exhibitions and retail. New buildings contain a commercial kitchen, public toilets (including changing places) and a café. These small buildings nestle around a central green space for performance and relaxation.

Powerhouse Place celebrates the scale, history and materials of the powerhouse building but reflects the need to create new community spaces that are ecologically restorative, inclusive and activated.

The new buildings are the first carbon positive, hemp masonry public buildings in Australia and are arranged to create human scaled, intimate and tactile spaces.

Victorian Architecture Awards Accolades
Regional Prize (Vic)
The Allan and Beth Coldicutt Award for Sustainable Architecture (Vic)
The Joseph Reed Award for Urban Design (Vic)
The Victorian Architecture Medal
Victorian Jury Citation

The Allan and Beth Coldicutt Award for Sustainable Architecture

Powerhouse Place by Public Realm Lab reconnects the Mildura CBD and community to the Murray River. The project revitalises a neglected post-industrial site, transforming it into a hub for community and connection. The project demonstrates exemplary sustainable design principles through adaptive reuse, materiality, and community engagement.  

The approach is underpinned by asking the right questions of how best to reuse, and where required to build new with material choices that have a positive impact on the environment by sequestering carbon. The first of their kind in Australia. 

The existing Powerhouse structure was retained and repurposed, minimising demolition and waste. Salvaged materials, like the roof sheeting, were incorporated into the new design, providing deep shade to the hot climate. Native vegetation and mature tree preservation is prioritised, increasing the site’s canopy cover.  

Sustainable transportation is encouraged through dedicated pedestrian and cycling paths, promoting active lifestyles and reducing reliance on cars. The design’s flexibility anticipates future development within the masterplan. 

The jury was impressed by the extensive community consultation leading to a deep understanding of community needs, promotion of local business and inclusion of social enterprise. By prioritising both community and environmental responsibility, Powerhouse Place sets a model for future development in Mildura and provides an example for how to build less to give more. 

The Joseph Reed Award for Urban Design 

Powerhouse Place is a benchmark for our time; an exemplar of doing more with less and putting the human experience at the core of every design decision. It balances Country against the industrial heritage of its place, ensuring the mighty Murray River remains the hero of the precinct while a new level of amenity offers a myriad of possible experiences in a generous and welcoming way.  

The flexibility inherent in every design move is impressive, each element has been carefully crafted to be multi-functional for both public and private uses, day and night, and in all seasons. Three new buildings are assembled around the historic Powerhouse, one is the framed footprint of the former boiler house, the amenities block slides in as a green lozenge constructed from hemp concrete, and the cafe gathering space is crowned with a translucent sawtooth that glows at night.  

Powerhouse Place is knitted into its context, a collection of shapes, typologies and eras of buildings which work because of the spaces in between them. Nothing is wasteful or elaborate, it honestly expresses itself and inspires us to imagine how we could be within it – gathering, learning, socialising, celebrating, truth telling, relaxing, and enjoying. 

The Victorian Architecture Medal

Powerhouse Place stands as an outstanding exemplar for contemporary placemaking and adaptive reuse, redefining how we approach public spaces. The project transforms a neglected riverfront site into a vibrant community hub, prioritising social wellbeing and environmental responsibility. Extensive consultations ensured community needs were met, fostering a strong sense of custodianship and belonging. 

Sustainability is integral throughout, from the considered restoration of the existing powerhouse to minimise waste, salvaged and reused materials, and native vegetation which all ground the project in place.  

Four new pavilions, arranged as a collection to complement the historical powerhouse, are consciously knitted into the landscape, where the spaces in-between are as crucial as the buildings themselves. The design is honest and humble, offering a multitude of experiences through flexible spaces that cater to day-and-night use, across all seasons. Unnecessary embellishments are removed, allowing users to inhabit the space freely for gathering, learning, celebrating. 

The jury was impressed by how the new precinct celebrates community, and renews a relationship with the river and Country, setting a joyful precedent for public space. A testament to the power of deep listening and collaboration, Powerhouse Place exemplifies a commitment of building less to give more, a crucial consideration in this age. 

Regional Prize

Nestled on the banks of the Dhungala (Murray River) in Mildura, Powerhouse Place is a compelling example of an architect acting as place-maker. By reimagining a former industrial site, the project is instrumental in restoring the town’s relationship with the river. 

In response to a strong push from locals to create a project that benefited them, not just tourists, Public Realm Lab have resisted the pressures to immediately begin architectural production and instead adopted an approach of deep listening and advocacy on behalf of the community.  

The result is an assemblage of modest, yet finely calibrated civic spaces. It is an architecture of possibility rather than prescription. And while the colonial history of the powerhouse building is undeniable, the adaption of this structure allows for re-occupation by all members of the community, including First Nations groups who are reclaiming their connection to Country.  

In a time of limited resources, Powerhouse Place serves as an exemplar of a different way of working, one where success is defined by the degree of ownership and occupation of a site by a community. It is restrained, yet generous and demonstrates how minimal architectural intervention is necessary to create a sense of place. 

Powerhouse Place has been a resounding success since it was completed late last year, delivering everything it promised in terms of creating an attractive space offering opportunities for increased activation and new experiences along our iconic riverfront.

The design manages to create a fresh new look along our riverfront while still respecting the history of the precinct.

Project Practice Team

Anna Maskiell, Design Architect
Mitch Gow, Project Architect
Philip Ward, Director
Stacey Ng, Documentation Support

Project Consultant and Construction Team

Bridge 42, Project Manager
Tract, Landscape Consultant
BSE, Engineer
Tonkin, Structural Engineer
Resonate, Acoustic Consultant
Lightwell, AV Consultant
Ark Resources, ESD Consultant

Connect with Public Realm Lab
Powerhouse Place | Public Realm Lab | Photographer: Tom Ross

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