Office building redevelopment an inspired choice for vertical aged care living

Last updated on 16 November 2023

With land at a premium – especially in inner-city Melbourne – the future of aged care is rising up before us. More and more aged care providers are developing high-rise aged care centres with a combination of assisted living and independent living facilities to cater to the growing demand for quality care. 

There is one slight difference at The Alba, however. Originally built in the early 1970s, the South Melbourne development has been repurposed from an office building into a vertical aged care community. 

Jessica Lee, Fender Katsalidis principal architect, told ABC’s Richard Willingham it’s a new lease of life for the building at the centre of a unique aged care project.

“I think it is an Australian first. It’s not the first office tower converted into residential units but certainly the first of its kind in vertical aged care which is a different building classification altogether,” Ms Lee said.

In many ways, it’s easy to see why the provider behind The Alba, Australian Unity, went for redevelopment over a ground-up build. For one, finding empty spaces in any metropolitan setting with views of the CBD is near impossible.

In addition, there’s the cost of demolishing an established building. Even with what some might call a hefty $125 million price tag, the costs were slightly in favour of redevelopment and refurbishment, two factors that would have swayed any organisation. But there was also a drastic reduction in carbon emissions. 

It’s estimated that Australia’s building industry produces between 30 million and 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually and the potential for a sustainable build was appealing to all those involved, explained Ms Lee.

“A lot of questions were asked as to whether it would be cheaper to demolish and build from scratch or cheaper to retain the existing structure. An analysis was done and it wasn’t too big a difference… the cost to rebuild was something like $6700 per square metre versus $6300 per square metre,” she said.

“But the carbon offset or sustainability value was a remarkable quantity of CO2 reduction. They [Australian Unity] did an end-of-project analysis in terms of how much carbon was offset and it was a staggering number of 3.3 million kilograms of carbon offset equivalent.”

Ms Lee added that retaining the existing building provided time-saving benefits for the planning approval process.

Tapping into the local market

Not only is there a feel-good sustainability outcome with the project, but the South Melbourne location has tapped into an important aged care requirement: ageing in place. With 95 residential aged care suites and 60 assisted living apartments, there are now an additional 155 residences for Melbourne locals who want to remain at the centre of the action. 

“South Melbourne is an established inner-city suburb with a great view of Albert Park Lake, all the open space and the wonderful communal amenities in the neighbourhood. One of our conversations with residents living there is that [there are] residents who have lived in the suburb their whole life and are looking for an appropriate residence for their ageing needs as they move into different requirements for their health,” she explained.

“It’s an urban infill project that allows for the use of an existing building in a different way and certainly an answer or solution to repurposing older buildings into the current uses people are looking for today. It does fill a gap by offering age-appropriate housing within the local spaces that people have lived in in established neighbourhoods.”

Ms Lee also acknowledged that more questions will be asked regarding the potential for vacant office buildings to be converted into an aged care community.

With vacancies across the board due to a rise in flexible work arrangements, more buildings are prime for redevelopment. The Alba certainly won’t be the last office building to transform into an aged care community and its success will pave the way for vertical living redevelopment. 

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