Meet the all-female team behind the million-dollar Strathnairn Charity House | HerCanberra

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Meet the all-female team behind the million-dollar Strathnairn Charity House

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The Strathnairn Charity House, designed and built by a talented all-female team, is expected to fetch over a million dollars for three Canberra charities.

Cassandra Keller, Principal at CK Architecture, knows how hard the past year has been for Canberrans. A board member for Karinya House, a charity that provides shelter and support for mothers and babies, Cassandra has seen first-hand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our community. It’s one of the many reasons she didn’t hesitate to be part in one of 2021’s most uplifting projects, The Strathnairn Charity House.

“I’ve been involved with Karinya for a very long time, since I designed their first facility in 2012,” says Cassandra. “Seeing the huge impact they have in the community is amazing, so I’ll do anything I can to help in a professional capacity.”

An artist’s impression of the Strathnairn Charity House.

A joint venture between Ginninderry and Master Builders ACT, The Strathnairn Charity House will be conceptualised, designed and built with high-quality donated and low-cost services and labour. Once completed, the house will go to auction, with the proceeds split between three worthy organisations within West Belconnen—Pegasus Riding for the Disabled, Karinya House and Canberra City Care Charnwood—with funds distributed through Hands Across Canberra.

With four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a sleek modern design, the Strathnairn Charity House is expected to fetch upwards of a million dollars at auction—but it won’t just raise much-needed funds. It will also break down barriers within the construction industry, as the team behind its design, construction and oversight will be comprised solely of women.

KANE Constructions ACT will lead construction and General Manager Jo Farrell says she jumped at the opportunity.

“The ACT Women’s Action Plan sets a target of achieving increased participation by women in the construction sector, but you can’t be what you can’t see, so this project is a great opportunity to shine a light on the impact that women can have in our industry,” says Jo.

“From a design and construction point of view, the project will be led by a female architect and builder but, more importantly, every trade we use will have a female apprentice, and participants on the Master Builder’s ACT & Ginninderry’s successful SPARK Women in Trades program will also use the project as a live training site.”

“KANE Constructions saw this as an opportunity—with myself managing the ACT branch and us having a female operations manager, a female commercial manager and a strong female presence—that we would really be able to complete this build in a genuine manner, as gender equity Is a core focus of our business.”

Recent statistics show that female participation now sits at roughly 12 per cent participation in construction overall. If you narrow that down to women’s participation in trade roles, participation sits at less than two per cent.

“There’s a big push at the moment to recognise what women can do in the industry and encourage more women to join,” says Jo. “That’s why platforms like this are vital.”

At the Strathnairn Charity House, everything from the conceptualisation of the design, to a large part of the construction will be completed by women. Even the cost planning is being overseen by Fiona Doherty from construction and property consultancy Rider Levett Bucknall, who is also a fellow NAWIC Director alongside Jo.

An artist’s impression of the Strathnairn Charity House.

Cassandra Keller shares Jo’s enthusiasm. Her firm CK Architecture is heavily involved in programs which she says, “enables young women to explore careers in construction they may not have thought about”, so being part of the Strathnairn Charity House team was a natural choice.

Inspired by the charity house’s premium position on a generous corner block with views out across the Murrumbidgee corridor and the Brindabellas, Cassandra and her team have worked to create a house that blends high-end design with the accessibility expected by a modern family.

“I wanted to design something in keeping with the beautiful site and its amazing views,” says Cassandra.

With a stunning marble kitchen, split-level living areas and outdoor entertaining spaces, it’s no surprise the home is expected to fetch upwards of a million dollars at auction. Cassandra says she’s also designed the home with people’s changing needs in mind, so families can “age in place”.

“We designed a luxe parents’ retreat, but if you’re a parent who is looking after their parents—which many people in the sandwich generation can relate to—then your parents could be on the ground floor of the house without having to negotiate the main stairs.”

Her other favourite element of the build? The grand entrance.

“The entranceway has high clerestory windows so you walk in the front door and are drawn around the corner by these high-level windows. You get a real ‘wow’ sense as you come up the stairs to the main living space.”

Another innovative design element is the in-ground water tank that will sit under the driveaway, made possible thanks to the input of Civil Engineer Anna Nagalingam and her dedicated team from Indesco Consulting Engineers.

Anna says the opportunity to put together an all-female team within the Indesco office was too good to pass up.

“It’s been a fantastic opportunity for them to hone their skills and work with an all-female team, which is not very common in this industry,” says Anna.

“I hope the project will enable females in trades to further their apprenticeships, that it will enable engineers to hone their skills, and that it raises a significant amount of money for the wonderful charities involved.”

An artist’s impression of the Strathnairn Charity House.

In keeping with Ginninderry’s commitment to sustainable living, strict attention has been paid to the home’s energy efficiency. To this end, Jenny Edwards, Managing Director and Lead Scientist from Lighthouse Architecture and Science, has been brought on board to ensure the home achieves an enviable 7-star green rating without compromising its “wow factor”.

“I did the thermal performance modelling and energy efficiency rating and helped them optimise that during the finalisations of the design,” explains Jenny. “During construction I’m really excited to work with the tradespeople to help them understand the importance of air-tightness and insulation.”

These measures will ensure the house is comfortable year-round with minimum heating and cooling and will adapt to Australia’s changing climate over time—as well as adhering to Ginninderry’s strict sustainability standards. Jenny is also excited to work with all-female tradespeople on site, which she describes as “awesome”.

“I was so excited about this project because women have so much to offer in the construction and housing industry. We do bring a different perspective so the idea to showcase that with an all-female team is very exciting.”

For Annette Owens, principal at Select Structures, who will act as the Building Certifier, the Strathnairn Charity House represents a way to celebrate two great causes—collaboration between women in construction and the house’s nominated charities.

“It’s an excellent combination of good causes and great people.”

Annette will act as the final piece of the puzzle—making sure the build meets all the project requirements and is built true to the approved plans—giving new owners peace of mind.

From raising vital funds to creating meaningful change in the construction sector, Jo Farrell is excited to get started when construction begins this week.

“The impact of all of this will be a tangible demonstration of the opportunities available to women in the sector with a range of flow-on benefits and new employment pathways created.”

Construction will soon commence on The Strathnairn Charity House, with completion and auction slated for late 2021.

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