Pro-Bono in Fruition: Natural Disasters


Image Via Right Angle Studio courtesy of BVN Architecture [1]
In cases of the natural disasters where the landscape has been disturbed, it provides an opportunity for architects to be involved since they specialise in the built environment. Pro-bono architecture can then be utilised in these types of situations, where a sense of community is often displaced from the occurrence of natural disasters.

In north-east Melbourne, the event remembered as Black Saturday, one of most devastating bush-fires to date in Australia, had resulted in the loss of 2,029 homes and costed 173 lives.[2] On the day, temperatures had exceeded past 46 degrees with winds reaching up to 120km/h causing flames to expand even further.[3]

One of buildings lost to the bush-fire was the Narbethong Community hall, built over 50 years ago, with the majority of the structure consisting of timber. The community hall had originally faced Maroondah Highway and wasn’t specifically designed with the town’s context in mind, having little to no correlation to the existing landscape beyond.[4]

Following the events of Black Saturday, the committee members had mentioned how we can often mistake the importance of the having a community space once we feel its absence. Therefore, it further solidified the need for a public realm to gather at especially during a time when they were still recovering from the bush-fire and needed each other’s company the most.[5]

Jennifer Wood, a Narbethong committee member, then came into contact with Emergency Architects, a non-profit organisation dealing with helping communities experiencing natural disasters by providing them pro-bono architectural services.[6] Through the organisation, Ninotschka Titchkosky from BVN Donovan Hill architects, was assigned to the project working in collaboration with other initiations under the alliance of pro-bono.[7] Initially the committee members were skeptical about whether she would put in the same amount of effort into a pro-bono project but upon seeing the work she was putting in and her commitment, the committee were more optimistic.[8]

Image Via Right Angle Studio courtesy of BVN Architecture [9]
For the concept of new hall, it was primarily focused on emphasising the town’s prevalent timber culture. To articulate this, they used locally sourced timber slats as partitions to imitate the trees and landscape that are distinctive of Narbethong. The final design then conceived of a simple rectangular shape with a double glazing envelope and a fire-resistant bronze mesh layered on top. By having the outer layer encased in mesh they were able to implement the local timber into the building. In doing so the facade had a level of transparency, opening the hall up more to the outside that had previously lacked in the original building.[10]

Image Via Archdaily courtesy of BVN Architecture [9]

Image Via Archdaily courtesy of BVN Architecture [9]
Image Via Archdaily courtesy of BVN Architecture  [9]
Image Via Archdaily courtesy of BVN Architecture [9]












The concept though is understood the most in the interior. Inside each timber slat is evenly spaced out from one another to let natural light to be dispersed throughout the hall. And with the curvature of the timber partitions it creates small recesses around the edges for private use spaces thus creating a large public area in the center, flexible enough to be used for multiple purposes.[11] To relate the building back to the site the corners were open to allow views of the landscape to be visible from any point inside the hall.[12]

By adopting an open plan, it helped strengthened the relationship between the built form and the natural environment in which it stood in.[13]

This project demonstrates how useful pro-bono architecture could be in facilitating certain communities in need of public gathering spaces. With the architect’s assistance, the new community hall was able to embrace Narbethong’s distinctive culture.[14]












[1] “Triumph over Disaster: Narbethong Community Hall,” Right Angle Studios, accessed May 1, 2018,

[2] “Black Saturday Five Years Later,” Mark, Oct/Nov 2014, 60-91,

“Natural Disasters in Australia,” Emergency Architects, accessed April 30, 2018,

[3] Emergency, “Natural Disasters.”

[4] “Narbethong Community Hall reopened,” ArchitectureAU, accessed April 30, 2018,

“Narbethong Community Hall,” BVN, accessed April 30,2018,

[5] “BVN Narbethong Community Hall,” Vimeo Video, 6:23, posted by “SRH,” March 2012,

[6] “Triumph over Disaster: Narbethong Community Hall,” Right Angle Studios, accessed May 1, 2018,

[7] BVN, “Narbethong.”

Vimeo, “BVN Narbethong.”

[8] Vimeo, “BVN Narbethong.”

[9] “Narbethong Community Hall/ BVN,” Archdaily, accessed May 1, 2018,

[10] ArchitectureAU, “Narbethong reopened.”

BVN, “Narbethong.”

[11] BVN, “Narbethong.”

[12] ArchitectureAU, “Narbethong reopened.”

[13] “Black Saturday Five Years Later,” Mark, Oct/Nov 2014, 60-91,

[14] BVN, “Narbethong.”