Calling all architects, tradies, suppliers & builders: help needed for bushfire rebuild

The Australian Institute of Architects is calling on professionals and suppliers in the building and construction sector to step up and support rebuilding efforts in bushfire ravaged communities.

The Black Summer bushfires destroyed more than 46 million acres of land, over 5,900 buildings including 2,779 homes and killed 34 people.

Eighteen-months on from the catastrophe, many families remain in limbo, unable to rebuild their homes.

Supply chain disruption from a combination of both the fires themselves and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic have sent building costs skyrocketing, adding to the barriers many people already face from inadequate insurance and difficulties obtaining planning permissions.


The town of Cobargo in NSW was one of the worst hit, with many of its residents still sheltering in caravans and other temporary accommodation today.

But one couple, Barb and Dave Rugendyke, who lost their home on New Year’s Day 2020 after spending their lives giving to their community as foster parents, and even as the local town Santa, have seen this kindness returned.

A host of suppliers and building and construction professionals, brought together by architect Jeremy McLeod of Breathe Architecture, joined forces to rebuild a home for Dave, Barb and their children.

A new video (watch here), produced by the Local Project and released tonight, showcases this extraordinary journey – one that Jeremy hopes will inspire others to sign up to give their time, money and materials to help more bushfire-ravaged communities rebuild.

Australian Institute of Architects CEO, Julia Cambage, endorsed the call for more support saying now was a time to give back to communities in desperate need.

“We’ve seen huge levels of stimulus roll-out in response to the pandemic but so many families who lost everything in the fires have missed out,” Ms Cambage said.

“While we will continue advocating strongly for better-targeted stimulus and urgently-needed regulatory reform, we urge those across the industry to step up with practical support for their fellow Australians.”

Recalling Breathe’s first meeting with Dave and Barb, Jeremy explains that they were reluctant to accept his offer to design and oversee the building of a new home for the family. 

“Dave said to us ‘There’s over 400 people that’ve lost their houses around here. There must be someone who deserves this more than us. There must be someone that needs help more than us. Why don’t you help them?’ 

Madeline Sewall, a Breathe Associate, responded “Well you’ve spent your entire life helping other people, so there is no one else. Dave – you’re a hero’.” 

The design process was somewhat reverse engineered, with the architects first calling a number of suppliers and requesting components for the house. 

Jeremy started by reaching out to Fisher & Paykel and asking for appliances. Tradelink was then contacted for the donation of all bathroom fixtures and fittings, whilst Taubmans was also engaged at an early stage, offering the services of its coloursmith and customising over a dozen colours for the house. Fielders, BREC Energy, Form Brick, StudioAll, Accent Windows, Automatic Heating and a myriad of other suppliers were also called upon, each one answering the call and donating materials as Jeremy requested. 

“It was this incredible team of people that came together within the blink of an eye. And then I went back to Maddie and said, ‘Here are all the people that are donating these things, how do we design a house with this kit of parts?’” Jeremy recounts.

Dave and Barb are quick to acknowledge that whilst they have received an undeniably positive outcome from a position of total despair, it does not come close to replacing what they or the community lost. Scores of families in regions like Cobargo are still waiting for insurance or building assistance after all this time. 

“That’s the saddest part,” explains Barb, “a lot of people out there are still living in a caravan.” As Jeremy outlines, “building prices have gone through the roof because everyone’s trying to rebuild. And so even people who were insured, now their insurance won’t cover the cost to rebuild what they had because of trade prices.

“What people need is help in really practical things. So, if you’re an architect, please offer your services pro bono to deliver a project from start to finish. If you’re a builder or a tradie, please think about coming down here and doing some work to help deliver some houses. And if you’re a supplier, think about donating some materials to help bring down the cost of building.” 

Any firms, builders or companies willing to help are urged to contact Architects Assist who are available and willing to connect them with families in need.

Notes to editors:

Read the full story A Place to Call Home – The Cobargo Santa Project by Breathe here

The video is also available to share and watch on YouTube.


  • Architecture and Interior Design by Breathe. 
  • Build by Davis Construction. 
  • Photography by Pablo Veiga. 
  • Styling by Atelier Lab. 
  • Video by Cheer Squad.
  • Production by The Local Project.
  • Footage Supplied by ABC, Jochen Spencer, Rambiz Media, Nick Ritar, Geoffrey Weaver and Peter Duff.

Presented in Partnership with Fisher & Paykel, Tradelink and Taubmans.