The Pilbara Vernacular Handbook

The Pilbara region of Western Australia is experiencing a massive surge of growth demanding a longer-term view of Pilbara communities, their infrastructure and amenity. The Pilbara Vernacular Handbook is a 400-page volume responding to the need for a strategic re-imagining for future urban and suburban development. It is designed as an essential tool creating a common focus for people from industry, commerce, government and community who are instrumental in the ongoing development of the Pilbara.

The task of identifying a Pilbara vernacular is a unique and unprecedented challenge and provides the opportunity to capture and reflect the dynamic spirit of the place. Many Pilbara towns were established to provide short-term accommodation for mining companies and do not have the distinctive built form that defines a typical local design context.

The objectives of the Pilbara Vernacular Handbook are to:

  • encourage high quality buildings and public realm and enhance the interface between the two
  • provide a contemporary design response to the Pilbara context including logistic and economic considerations
  • evoke a sense of place which reflects the local landscape, environment, climate and culture.

The Handbook provides a springboard for ideas and encourages a deeper level of thinking about the design and construction that is appropriate to the place.

To achieve this, the contents are organized into the following:

  • Analysis
  • Opportunities and Constraints
  • Values
  • Principles
  • Design Strategies

Five core values were identified as essential design considerations:

  • Responding to climate
  • Incorporating the natural landscape
  • Building on the Pilbara character and identity
  • Enhancing livability
  • Mobilising for change

The Handbook begins with an overarching analysis and strategies for appropriate responses for the urban realm, housing and built form. Four towns were nominated and the same analysis and strategic principles were applied to each unearthing the particularities of place and providing strategies to specific conditions.

The Pilbara Vernacular Handbook is the first comprehensive and detailed review of existing built fabric of towns in the region. We have presented a case for high quality, regional and place specific design responses at a variety of scales. The document has been designed to be read by a broad range of users and is set out in an easy to understand format using colour coding to guide the user through the categories of reference.

We worked with engineers, planning consultants, retail and economic consultants, planning and land agencies to ensure that the work met the strategic goals of government whilst balancing practical, credible and viable design scenarios. We worked closely with local builders and developers to ensure the validity of our strategies in the marketplace and test the effectiveness of our communication.

The document has already become an invaluable source of information for government, council, developers and builders. There is opportunity to build the content with additional chapters on specific building and planning topics and we are currently working on multiple dwelling and medium density development in the Pilbara.

The true value of this document will be seen as the towns and cities develop and will be appreciated by generations to come.

East Hedland Fill and Substructure Study

CODA were engaged by Landcorp to investigate if an alternative approach to the Business as Usual (BAU) model could minimise imported infill and result in substantial financial, environmental and spatial gains for a site located in the floodplain of East Port Hedland.

CODA’s role in conjunction with CAPITAL HOUSE structural engineers and Davis Langdon Quantity Surveyors was to develop and explore alternative housing typologies to the BAU model utilising various substructure solutions.

An alternative approach to BAU was considered as raising the lot in it entirety by importing fill to achieve a minimum ground level dictated by 1:100, 1:50 and 1:20 year flood surge levels together with the use of steel structure and suspended floor to achieve the required habitable flood level.

To assist in determining the likely viability of an alternative approach, a Construction Industry Research Questionnaire was prepared and issued to several established Pilbara Home Builders in order to gather valuable knowledge of current market standards and practice. Research of the recent Queensland Floods was also completed and the findings and applicable strategies for construction in floodplain areas collated.

The Springs

Landcorp engaged CODA to review and re-write Design Guidelines for a 13.7 ha site in Belmont adjacent to the Swan River, the Graham Farmer Freeway and Great Eastern Highway. It is intended that this development will form an attractive and desirable gateway into the City of Belmont.

Extensive consultation took place with external planners, the owners of the site and an extensive design consultant team that included civil engineers and landscape architects. Through this process CODA was able to deliver a detailed urban design guide for medium to high-density buildings as well as Design Guidelines and Detailed Area Plans that are soon to be incorporated as Local Planning Policy by the City of Belmont.

Key features of the project include a mix of residential and commercial premises to encourage the development of a dynamic and active urban environment.


Waranyjarri Display Village

CODA were engaged by Landcorp to be part of an assessment and selection panel which selected 8 house designs, by 8 local builders, to be constructed as part of a ‘display village’ at the entry to the Waranyjarri Estate. Given its location at the major entry point to the estate, it was essential that the selected houses not only showcase local builders and their designs, but that they set a precedent for future development within the subdivision.

As authors of both the Broome North Housing Guide and the Broome North Design Guidelines, CODA ensured that each of the houses selected for the display village were appropriately designed for the Broome climate and compliant with the desired character and aesthetic of the Waranyjarri subdivision. Following this, CODA worked with the successful builders to ensure the success of their designs, a process which gave us a unique insight in construction methods, cost effective strategies and standardisation options for Broome housing.

Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley Collocation Plan

The Shire commissioned a critical review of their existing built facilities and the impact predicted future growth may have on their ability to provide effective services to their residents and stakeholders. CODA worked closely with the Shire to develop an Architectural Brief, Conceptual Planning and Design for the proposed Administration Centre that ensured the building met community expectations as well as the necessary functional and environmental requirements.

CODA commenced with a comprehensive Site Analysis Report which detailed the existing site features, complex geo-technical and environmental constraints, zoning requirements, title details and built features as well as identified the need for an additional Condition and Dilapidation Report.


CODA was engaged to provide due diligence, community consultation, urban design and feasibility on a 5ha site in the town centre of Kununurra. As a result of the project, a subdivision plan and housing typologies for Indigenous transitional housing were also developed. Our commitment to sustainable, climate responsive principles were highlighted, along with the complex overlay of providing appropriate cultural subdivision systems for Indigenous housing within an integrated neighbourhood.

As part of our role, we were involved in the Kununurra Enquiry by Design process and also conducted extensive consultation with local stakeholders including Wunan, MG Corporation, the Shire, Department of Housing as well as other housing providers.

Broome North

CODA was engaged to provide specialist design, consultation and analysis services for the development of a 700ha site north of the Old Broome town site. The project required extensive site analysis, community consultation and engagement as well as the preparation of built form/urban design guidelines. We developed various housing typologies for the site, including a mix of single and grouped housing options.

CODA investigated the context and history of the housing market in Broome, its local conditions and site constraints. Our approach to the urban design and housing principles will enable climatically responsive housing typologies that will allow occupants to enjoy Broome’s unique environment and demographic.

Our climatic principles extended to the detail of the built form in order to ensure that the designs not only respond to seasonal variations but are also affordable, diverse, adaptable, reflective of their location and sustainable. Details such as breezeways, recesses, openings, louvres, overhangs, limiting thermal mass and increasing insulation were all included as was the integration of natural shading and appropriate boundary fencing. Each housing typology ensures that the air conditioning, insulation, water usage, energy use and solar power are all environmentally sustainable.

In 2010, our work for Broome North received the Australian Institute of Architects Award for Urban Design (WA). In evidencing their decision, the jury described Broome North as having the potential to become ‘the prototype for future regional planning in Western Australia.’

Cottesloe Town Centre

The Town of Cottesloe engaged CODA to assist in the development of architectural and built form outcomes for two council owned sites in the town centre. Specifically, we explored the different statutory and strategic planning options for the town centre including building height, streetscape, parking and plot ratio.

Station Street had long been an ad-hoc collection of building types and the council was very keen that any new developments consider the social, environmental and architectural outcomes desired by the greater community. Other issues were the shortage of parking, the constraints of the site between highway and railway, and the challenges of creating a cohesive town centre whilst large pockets remain undeveloped as a result of private ownership.

Our proposals demonstrated careful consideration to all of these factors, combining a significant parking provision within buildings that activated the street through retail and hospitality. Local business association, ProCott, saw this an opportunity to reinforce the brand of the Cottesloe Village as an outdoor local shopping and services centre in opposition to the indoor mall model of public space used by most other retail hubs.