Guulabaa Place of Koala wins International Design Award

Forestry Corp of NSW

Place of Koala in Cowarra State Forest has won the Gensler Community by Design Award, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Gensler Australia, Forestry Corporation of NSW, Koala Conservation Australia, WildNets, Bunyah Local Aboriginal Land Council and Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail.

The Gensler Community by Design Award recognises projects that showcase the transformative impact of design excellence in a community.

Guulabaa – Place of Koala is a tourism precinct on the NSW Mid North Coast offering visitors opportunities to learn about koala conservation, Aboriginal culture, modern forestry, have a treetop adventure, relax and enjoy forest walks or picnic under the eye of The Big Koala sculpture. Guulabaa means ‘place of koala’ in local Gathang, the language of the Biripi people, the Traditional Owners of the land on which Guulabaa sits.

Architectural firm Gensler Australia assembled talent from diverse design fields to inform the project for client Forestry Corporation of NSW, whilst also fostering close collaboration with Guulabaa project partners, local community and the timber industry.

Integral to the award is the Gensler-designed ‘The Hub,’ a series of unique hardwood timber decks which draw the visitor into the trees and provide a koala’s perspective of the forest. ‘The Hub’ links Koala Conservation Australia’s wild koala breeding facility, Bunyah Local Aboriginal Land Council café and gallery, Wildnets Adventure and Hello Koalas ‘The Big Koala’, whilst also providing an outdoor amphitheatre and connection to the forest picnic area and walking tracks.

“Winning the 2024 Community by Design Award for Guulabaa Hub underscores the power of regenerative design. This project not only honours Aboriginal cultural heritage and 60,000 years of innovation but also exemplifies our commitment to environmental stewardship and community-based architecture. We are thankful for the valuable knowledge and experience gained through our partnerships with Koala Conservation Australia (KCA), WildNets, Forestry Corp., builder Frank Maione, TTW, E-Lab, Cundall, MBM and Tensile,” said Gensler Design Director, Ken McBryde.

“Engaging with native forest product manufacturers including Big River Timbers and Coffs Harbour Hardwoods allowed us to harness their specialist expertise and capabilities, significantly reducing our project’s carbon footprint. A standout experience was learning and designing on Country with Bunyah Local Aboriginal Land Council, which profoundly enriched our understanding and design approach. We are immensely grateful for the invaluable insights gained from all our partners,” Mr McBryde said.

Forestry Corporation of NSW is integral to the project, having gained NSW Government grant funding for creation of ‘The Hub’ and engineering partnerships with local timber suppliers.

“This project represents a true partnership in forest management, bringing together local organisations committed to showcasing Aboriginal heritage and cultural practices, forest ecology and koala conservation, forest timber products, art and design, for the visiting public,” said Kathy Lyons, Senior Manager, Country & Community with Forestry Corporation of NSW.

“We are incredibly grateful to the local timber industry for supporting this project through provision of beautiful north coast hardwood timbers, used in Corinthian style pole columns, laminated hardwood beams, laminated decks, timber seating, cladding and timber decking tiles. And to Ken McBryde for incorporating many new products into his designs for ‘The Hub’. It’s truly a masterpiece,” Ms Lyons said.

Guulabaa – Place of Koala partner organisations were equally excited to be recognised as contributing to the Community by Design Award.

“Koala Conservation Australia are delighted to see the Gensler Community by Design Award go to the Guulabaa project. It supports our aim of ensuring our Guulabaa precinct is a world class, sustainable, conservation focussed, educative tourist destination and it is wonderful to see our efforts recognised and celebrated,” said Maria Doherty, General Manager, Koala Conservation Australia.

“We’ve been a partner in Guulabaa Place of Koala since its inception, when Forestry Corporation approached us. The Hub is the location of our cafe, is home to our art gallery showcasing local Aboriginal artist’s work and will provide shade for the ampitheatre. It will be of great benefit to the local community. We can’t wait for the opening,” said Amos Donovan, CEO, Bunyah Local Aboriginal Land Council.

“WildNets feel incredibly grateful to be part of the Guulabaa – Place of Koala precinct. Our mission is to support koala conservation whilst fostering community health, wellbeing, and environmental education experiences. To have Guulabaa recognised as having a transformative impact in the local community is wonderful news,” said Marius Gaymard, Founder & CEO of WildNets Adventure.

“Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail is proud to support the development of ‘Guulabaa, Place of Koala’ in the Cowarra State Forest. It is an honour to see leading international architect Ken McBryde and his accomplished team win the 2023 Gensler Community by Design Award. Guulabaa is an innovative and important philosophical project with an outstanding architectural design to complement its strong environmental and conservation message,” said Margret Meagher, Project Director, Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, and Executive Director, Australian Centre for Arts & Health Ltd.

“Guulabaa – Place of Koalas is an amazing example of collaboration and the clustering of aligned product to create a unique and dynamic precinct integral in the protection of koalas, with tremendous community amenity and be a compelling visitor attraction. Designing and creating a place that fulfills these roles whilst incorporating First Nations Peoples’ knowledge and integrating native timbers into the surrounding hardwood forest is an accomplishment that should be celebrated,” said Michael Thurston, General Manager, Destination North Coast.

This project was delivered thanks to funding from the NSW Government and joint funding from the Australian and NSW government’s Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.

Further detail of the Guulabaa – Place of Koala project is available on the Guulabaa website.

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