Administration building

Project Overview

Birrigai is a 170 hectare property approximately 25kms south west of Canberra city centre. The site skirts along the edge of the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and Namadgi National Park and is ideally located as an exploration point for children to discover the natural landscape, natural wildlife, ecology, indigenous culture and history.

The bushfires of January 2003 burnt vast tracts of the Namadgi National Park and other areas of ACT natural reserves. Birrigai was substantially damaged in the fire with a number of buildings and facilities being completely destroyed. Collard Clarke Jackson were engaged to undertake the redevelopment of the site after the 2003 bush fire had destroyed some of the existing infrastructure. Bushfires have devastated the local environment and history but this provides the unique opportunity to experience and participate in the rebirth of the site and surrounds.

Rebirth, regrowth, rebuild were the key concepts for the redesign of the site.  The surrounding bushland has adapted to periodical fire events, with some plants such as Banksias relying on fire to seed propagation.

The idea of the seed or egg as a symbol of rebirth is universal and thus the germination of a seed forms the basic shape in the layout for the new buildings.

The effects of the bushfire not only damaged facilities but the natural surroundings that formed the outdoor classroom to the school.  This has forced a change in the educational curriculum with a focus towards environmental science.

The new buildings at Birrigai reflect this change becoming more environmentally conscious and providing educational opportunities in their use. The types of new buildings vary in their use and therefore require variation in the principles implemented.  Each building has been specifically designed for its purpose.

All have been designed to allow passive solar and ventilation principles to be employed.  These basic principles mean that all the buildings will be able to achieve low energy use.  This makes future addition of energy producing systems – such as photovoltaic cells and wind generation – more viable.


The rural location of Birrigai makes some of the ESD options for heating buildings such as hydronic slab heating less efficient without the access to mains supplied natural gas and reliance on electricity.  Therefore standard urban comparisons do not apply and alternative systems need to be explored.  Solar hot water generation and hydronic fireplaces become a more attractive option.  Designing the buildings to their maximum potential is crucial to make the available options more efficient. 

Thermal solar and hydronic fireplaces reduce the demand on energy.  Heat pumps – which are an efficient form of electric heating – are only needed as a backup.


Water is a major issue in Canberra, and the project includes both rain and grey water reuse. Rainwater storage is 93,000L for the main Birrigai site with a backup of bore water supply.  As the existing bore water supply is considered lower quality, the rainwater installed is the first level of supply.  Grey water is used to reduce the demand for this supply providing toilet flushing and irrigation.  Water demands are further reduced by the use of AAA rated fittings, overland drainage and the use of native plants.  


Images: Ben Wrigley