Koorie Heritage Trust at Federation Square

  • 2016

  • Architectural
    Interior Design

Designed By:

  • Lyons with Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria [IADV]

Commissioned By:

Koorie Heritage Trust (Tom Mosby - CEO)

Designed In:


The Koorie Heritage Trust is a transformative project to relocate a key Indigenous organisation to the cultural heart of Melbourne – Federation Square. The new premises showcases a vast collection, which amplifies cultural pride, identity and exchange in a spirit of reconciliation in celebration of the world’s oldest continuing culture.

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  • Central to the interiors project of the Koorie Heritage Trust is its role as an exemplar of Indigenous culture in Melbourne. A metaphorical and literal move from the fringes to the centre was a springboard to both connect to Country while reinforcing the importance of place. The move meets the long term strategic needs of the Trust, and is a significant symbolic move of Koorie culture from the margins of the city to its centre. The Trust is a peak Indigenous organisation in Victoria and its new premises allow it to share its heritage collections, create a place for the Koorie community to take pride in their identity, and where the wider community can come together in the spirit of reconciliation.

  • The profound gesture of building visibility of Aboriginal culture in Melbourne, brought with it the responsibility to embed authenticity. Consequently Indigenous culture from the South East was priviledged over references distant to Victoria, demonstrating the richness/pride evident here among the Kulin Nation. The colours, textures, materials illicit nature - the sky, water, earth + trees becoming powerful points of reference throughout the project. The use of symbols/motifs connect with local Indigenous art practices. Spatially the design has bled beyond the lease lines to capture the common spaces across the 3 levels inviting people to engage in the richness/pride exhibited here among the first people

  • Architecturally a transparent display cabinet acts as a functional/educational object. The desire to communicate that the Trust are keepers of a powerful collection, & that Indigenous culture is neither static nor fixed in time, became the catalyst for the headquarters to showcase a lived culture. The see through display focusses attention on the inner workings of the organisation, custodians of a rare collection of national significance. Views of art preservation, glimpses of the secure store, a library, expansive meeting rooms demonstrate the broad role of the trust. Despite a reduction in space (3000 to 950m²) in the new space, a tenfold increase in display capacity, can exhibit more of the 60K+ artefacts.

  • Upstairs a constructed landscape, welcomes us as an abstraction of a 'smoking ceremony' via a super-graphic of the Manna Gum flower leading to the metaphorical (shielded) front door. Beyond a river narrative permeates the interior. From a darkened space one is drawn to the light which leads skyward to a vivid blue ceiling, where 'Bunjil' (the Creator) is encountered as the protector, perched over visitors as they arrive. Along with sky glimpses, the arrival at the top of the stairs a direct view of the life blood of the city - 'Birrung' (the Yarra River) is encountered. Gentle reminders of the river evoke, communities camped by the banks, of the confluence of fresh and salt water + the use of bark canoes.

    At the core of the project was the capacity for cultural exchange and tangible opportunities for meaningful engagement. The collection was brought from out of sight to become the signature that envelops both visitors and staff alike. Central to this was to embed constant yet subtle reminders of the cultural continuity + contemporaneity that is so evident of Koorie culture in Victoria. Motifs of shields are explored in 'dendroglyph' like columns, custom carpets + bold graphics. Colours, textures and tactility explore a constructed landscape, while opportunities for conversation, workshops and informal exchange are highlight by considered organisation of space. The immersive experiences connects to culture.

    The use of Indigenous language seeks to make normative the bi-cultural realities that co-exist to this day. Reference to the 38 different language groups in Victoria are graphically represented in the key meeting spaces, reinforcing the strong links between language and culture. The design has sought to be light, bright, transparent and honesty clear in its expression, frugal yet richly expressed. The colours, textures and symbols evoke connections to local Indigenous art practices, there's "not dots down here … " The scheme demonstrates that through a process of deep listening, collaboration and meaningful participation - Indigenous culture can be shared, celebrated and amplified.

    The 1stFl opens up, exposing an evocation of a 'scar tree', previously part of the old Trust's premises. This cultural touchpoint focusses on the notion of caring for country. By removing the bark of a river red gum to make a canoe, one only uses that which is needed. This is echoed by a 7.5m L, 1 tonne bespoke piece of joinery the gathering table. This gesture encourages everyone to engage through both tactile + direct ways. Gone are the white gloves, in favour of active drawers, stools - a place for workshops, demonstrations + dialogue. The space is akin to a riverbed with constructed banks being the artefact collection which envelopes the space. Floating within, the table points to the river in many ways