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Karijini National Park Visitors Centre Pilbera Region Western Australia


visitors centre

extraordinary landscape Ancient weathered hills, draped in grass like spinafex are slashed through by cliffs and gorges of black ore and deep red ochre.

The Karijini National Park in the Pilbara region of Western Australia is set in one of Australia’s most extraordinary landscapes. Iron ore, which is mined extensively in this region, is evident throughout the park. Ancient weathered hills, draped in grass like spinafex are slashed through by cliffs and gorges of black ore and deep red ochre. The project brief was to create a building for the interpretation of the park, its geology, flora, fauna, people and history. The cultural symbol chosen by the aboriginal stakeholders for the form of the building is a Kurrumanthu (goanna/ lizard).

The objectives of the building design are to represent through the built form, respect for the objectives and preoccupation’s of the aboriginal stakeholders and to stimulate interest in a reappraisal of our collective past, place in the landscape and relationship between aboriginal and non aboriginal people. The wall is the most powerfully transfiguring innovation imposed on the Australian landscape by European settlement. In its many forms it shields, encircles, includes, excludes and divides in unprecedented ways. This building is defined by an assembled collection of freestanding overlapping weathered steel wall panels which emerge directly from the red brown earth and are arranged in plan to provide an abstract representation of the Kurrumanthu acceptable to the aboriginal stakeholders.

Entry into the building is through glass doors set between two of the steel wall panels. Once inside large frameless glass windows draw the visitor back into an un-alienated landscape at every turn. Conventional building cues, roofs, gutters, downpipes, windows and doors are either concealed from immediate view or subverted. A series of T columns (split UB’s) linked by horizontal plate stringers, support and form the steel plate walls. Major spaces are enclosed by curving walls, raised coloured concrete floors and ceilings of expanded metal lathe stepping down to framelessa glazing. Water falls directly from metal deck roofs or flows down spillways formed between the wall plates. The roof sits between the walls, turned down into steel plate gutters that are an integral part of the walls. At every point the primacy of the wall is paramount. The result is an ambiguous form that is absorbed by the landscape and open to interpretation on a number of levels.

design features

Fire is a major threat to buildings in remote areas with the Visitors Centre located on a south facing slope that is prone to wild fires. Elevations are free of major openings and extend well beyond the full height windows behind, effectively shielding the building from occasionally grass fires. Hidden gutters are wide, open ended and designed to minimize fire ingress to the building and building damage. Soffits are flush, free of nooks and crannies that would allow the invasion of insects. Security in such a remote location was also a concern. An open screen of fully welded horizontal louvers protect the office windows and the discrete evaporative coolers. The latter are placed at ground level for ease of maintenance.

Fire is a major threat to buildings in remote areas with the Visitors Centre located on a south facing slope that is prone to wild fires.

Durability and maintainability were also primary considerations in the design of the building interiors and fitout. Floors are hardwearing concrete, coloured to a red brown to match the earth and designed to cope with high traffic volumes and the dirt tramped in every day by visitors. Karijini National Park enjoys a hot dry desert climate with cold winter nights. The temperature extremes and ventilation requirements for public buildings supported a well insulated design that is lightweight / low mass with high airflow evaporative cooling. The evaporative cooling effectively shadows ambient by minus 10 to 12 degrees. So on a 45o day temperatures inside the building can rise to 35o. However, the high ventilation rates and the contrast with conditions outside the building, it has succeeded in providing acceptable conditions. The effective passive insulation significantly slows the rate of heat gain, while the relatively low mass of the building stores very little heat therefore benefiting from night cooling can be maximised.

Public Consultation & Presentation Skills A comprehensive consultation process aimed at giving ownership to the local Aboriginal community charged with its operation. Numerous presentations for and consultation with the local people provided valuable local knowledge and appreciation. Working to the Budget and Timeframe Projects in the remote areas of the Pilbara present many budgetary constraints unfamiliar to local urban projects. High transport and labour costs, high energy costs and variable quality and availability of basic building materials such as water, aggregate, concrete and skilled labour to name just a few. To address this, the walls were prefabricated in Perth, trucked to site and craned into position. This provided the benefits of better quality control and lower on site construction costs than a more conventional building. This approach can be equally well applied to prefabricated steel frame walls systems and precast concrete.


The Karijini project is the recipient of two prizes in the Royal Australian Institute of Architects national awards. The judges awarded Karijini Visitors Centre the BHP Colorbond Award for the innovative use of steel and a commendation in the public buildings section. 2001 BHP Colorbond Steel Award 2001 RAIA Commendation for Public Buildings 2001 PCA WA Rider Hunt Award 2001 World Architecture Awards Readers Choice 2002 World Architecture Awards Readers Choice award in the, as judged by our peers. 2002 Short Listed World Architecture Awards, Berlin - Australasia Region Category Project, Public & Cultural Category Karijini Visitors Centre was 1 of 6 Australian projects and the only West Australian Project to be exhibited in the recent Venice Biennale.

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Floor Plan 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Covered external display area Front entrance Rest area Interpretive Displays Pond Theatrette Shop Change rooms

9. Staff kitchen 10. Office 11. Store 12. Toilet 13. Duct 14. Rear Entrance 15. Staff break-out area






1 Architects:


Project Team:

John Nichols

Exhibition Design: David Lancashire Photography:

John Gollings

For further information contact;


Visitors Centre, Karijini National Park, WA

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