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Creating a sensory garden

The National Museum of Australia is changing. This week the bulldozers moved in as landscapers broke ground on the regeneration of the Museum’s Forecourt precinct.

ARM Architecture and landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL) are working with Museum staff to transform the entrance into an immersive and sensory garden experience, showing the nation’s geographical diversity.

a colour photo of a woman visiting a National Park
TCL founder and director Kate Cullity at Watarrka National Park, Kings Canyon, Northern Territory

Environmental mosaic

‘The garden is composed of meandering pathways, seating, an informal amphitheatre and amorphic areas of lawn — elements which encourage people entering and leaving the Museum to linger, wander, relax, gather and play, in an abundant mosaic planting of Australian native plants,’ said TCL founding director Kate Cullity.

‘The Australian native plants are selected not only for their suitability to the Canberra climate and water availability, but also for their forms, colours, texture and seasonal floral displays.’

TCL’s plans draw inspiration from the Aboriginal land management practice of firestick farming, where areas are set alight to enhance soil fertility and plant abundance. Taking cues from this process also allowed designers to create a visual patchwork, where ‘the burnt and unburnt areas of land create a distinctive mosaic pattern which indicates how the land has been cultivated by fire’.

To achieve this ‘environmental mosaic’, TCL sourced contrasting plantings from across Australia, ensuring that the selected trees, plants and flowers would thrive in Canberra’s dry climate.

‘Trees will include species local to the Canberra area, such as Eucalyptus lacrimans (weeping snow gum) and Eucalyptus rossi (white gum), which both have beautiful, smooth white trunks,’ said Cullity.

Space to gather and relax

A design focus for TCL has been to create a space for visitors to gather and relax. Long, blackened timber plinths will act as seating in the garden, their positions determined by shadows that are cast from the overhead Loop.

Larger groups of visitors have also been catered for, with TCL planning ‘a series of sandstone block terraces creating an informal amphitheatre for relaxed seating, performances and events’.

The redesigned Forecourt will bring the Museum outside, said Cullity. ‘Just as the building tells stories about our Australian living history, the external areas are a canvas that can convey narratives of our rich environment.’

The Museum is running two fundraising campaigns around the Forecourt project. Funds raised through our 2018 Annual Appeal will help with the acquisition of native plants for the area, while The People’s Walk gives donors the opportunity to have their name, or that of a loved one, etched into a bluestone paver.

The Forecourt project will be a staged process and is due to be completed by mid-2019. Information about Museum access will be updated as changes occur.

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