Journey Through the Australian Museum

May 1, 2021


Australia’s first museum, the Australian Museum (AM) is now re-opened after a major transformation resulting in redeveloped exhibition areas and expanded public spaces. The AM originally opened to the public in 1857 and has since enlightened visitors on topics ranging from climate change to First Nations knowledge to featured exhibits showcasing scientific research produced by the Australian Museum Research Institute.

Entro’s visitor journey program bridges the Museum’s heritage architecture with its contemporary addition. Featuring plantation-sourced Blackbutt timber to evoke First Nations influences; repurposed balustrades from the heritage reclamation to create bespoke signage, and best-in-class accessibility features, the whole ensures a memorable, emotional experience for all: welcoming, clear, respectful, unique, and accessible.

We reclaimed the bronze balustrades from the central stairway of the Museum’s 1960s Parkes Farmer wing. The stunning golden hues of the repurposed bronze now greet visitors as sculptural level numbers in the AM’s relocated stairwell.

Like many of the building’s interior features, with natural materials used throughout, the signage is made from Blackbutt hardwood, which is endemic to eastern Australia. We collaborated with the Museum’s First Nations team to create an aesthetic that reflected the land and waterways on which the Museum stands. Our team drew inspiration from natural landscapes, such as mountains, trees, and rivers. Scarred trees in particular, trees that provide wood or bark for the creation of cultural objects, were an influence as they have played a part in sharing knowledge and living in balance for millennia on the lands now known as Australia.

Customization and attention to detail was central to the realization of this program: most of the signs are bespoke to accommodate their individual placements, with carefully crafted joinery and cut forms, all contributing to a cherished and living sense of place.

Pictograms and gallery markers were individually drawn, identifying key specimens of native Australian wildlife and many artefacts from Indigenous Australia and the Pacific.

The AM strives to be welcoming and accessible for all visitors, and signage is an important contributor to this experience. Following global best practices in accessible wayfinding, many signs are tactile, include braille and were evaluated by the project’s accessibility consultant to ensure the design met Australia’s rigorous accessibility standards.

Australian Museum Director and CEO Kim McKay AO said Entro has made a lasting contribution to the Australian Museum. “The Australian Museum’s elegant new wayfinding not only helps visitors navigate the Museum’s old and new spaces, but it also incorporates native Australian materials that complement the Museum’s heritage architectural features. Aside from seeing the gorgeous end result, my favorite part of working with Entro was mapping out the visitor journey and determining the best signage program to create a seamless experience for all visitors when enjoying the transformed Australian Museum.”

Designed by COX Architecture and Neeson Murcutt + Neille, the revitalization incorporates a new Grand Hall and central Escher staircase, a Museum Shop, a new members’ lounge, education rooms and amenities. We look forward to the next phases of development at the AM, which will feature new interactive education areas, an expanded Pacific Gallery and a new Minerals Gallery.

Photography: Brett Boardman and Jan Ashdown