The winner of the design competition for a new Visitor Centre was announced at a packed function held at Annesley Bowral on Friday, 30 June, 2017. Member for Wollondilly, Jai Rowell, announced that the winner was John Wardle Architects.
The competition jury, comprising eminent members of the architectural profession, a landscape architect and SHBG board members, selected the winning design.
Subject to funding, construction of the centre will begin in 2018/19. John Wardle Architects will work closely with SHBG’s renowned landscape architects, Taylor Cullity Lethlean.
The professional adviser for the competition was Annabelle Pegrum AM, who collaborated with SHBG to prepare the design brief and managed the competition.
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Inspired in part by the idea of botanical gardens as ‘places of learning and observation’ and of a ‘conservatory nestled within the garden wall’, this sophisticated proposal marries earth, sky and garden. The deceptively simple building form is deferential to the landscape and references local traditions of agricultural buildings, dipping its lid to the old ‘Skin Shed’ on the site, which was used to dry hides from a nearby abattoir. An elegant skeletal steel portal frame echoing botanical forms rises from the Bowral brick base which anchors the building to the ground. This brick formation creates an ‘occupied’ edge which provides wonderful spatial moments framing the landscape views. The balanced arrangement of lightweight structure above a solid base is both visually attractive and an appropriate contemporary expression of the built history of the Southern Highlands. Varying levels of transparency and choreography of light enliven the building within and without, suggesting orangeries and conservatories and creating beautiful moments and meeting places.
The sensitive architectural statement with its concomitant enclosure and transparency responds to the stipulated principles for the landscape sequence of the Gardens. Views across the gently falling landscape will range from ‘carefully choreographed glimpses’ to ‘panoramic vistas’. The Jury was impressed by the skilful synthesis of the internal and external spaces and the architectural envelope. The building is arranged practically in a series of appealing spaces including a long glazed internal conservatory. The planning and detailing recognises the sometimes severe climate of the Southern Highlands paying due attention to thermal efficiency and human comfort. The visitor journey into and around the building is gentle and legible yet enticing and joyful. At the centre of the building are three key linked spaces –the gallery at the heart, hall and café –which will provide operational flexibility and accommodate events and functions at a range of scales. The Jury expects that the fine lines of the building will be matched by the high level of detailing and finish expected of an important and valued public asset.
The generous and lofty gallery and café are raised above the level of the town Parterre, the building providing a curated and expansive outlook and the elevated prospect anticipated by the landscape plan for the Parterre. The hall can benefit from controlled winter sun and the program arrangement provides flexibility for many and varied events and functions. Both the hall and the café can be used in many ways without detracting from other functions of the building. The design responds to the challenges of the Highlands climate in an environmentally responsible and subtle manner through both passive and technical design measures. A restrained and locally appropriate material palette of earthy brick, steel, blackened charred timber and glass, frame and complement the landscape. Lofty internal spaces with translucent ceilings create light and liveliness throughout.
The Jury is of the view that the design by John Wardle Architects will become a statement of Australian architectural excellence and a major contributor to the success of a destination of national and international botanical significance.