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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Australian Age of Dinosaurs Visitor Centre in Winton, North Queensland by Cox Rayner Architects

July 30th, 2013 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Cox Rayner Architects

This project is located on top of a remote mesa in far north Queensland in outback Australia.
It was created as a visitor centre for people to witness first-hand one of the world’s most significant and cohesive dinosaur collections and it is remarkable for two reasons.
The first is its gestation.  Twelve years ago, a cattle grazier David Elliott accidentally stumbled on 100 million year old dinosaur fossils while mustering cattle.  Since then, he has become Australia’s leading palaeontologist who has engaged Winton’s whole community in the excavating, assembly and conservation of large dinosaurs.  Through these operations, Winton’s fragile farming economy has been transformed.

Image Courtesy © Cox Rayner Architects

  • Architects: Cox Rayner Architects
  • Project: Australian Age of Dinosaurs Visitor Centre
  • Location: Winton, North Queensland

Image Courtesy © Cox Rayner Architects

The second is its making.  So enthralled were we by the phenomenon, we agreed to design it pro-bono, with the Elliott family and community to build it. They asked only that the Centre captures the essence of the ancient landscape and entices visitation by its forms and spaces.
The building is designed to unfold from the mesa, tapering back down to it.  It is composed of only two materials – multiple large interlocking precast concrete panels imbued with the texture and colour of the red earth, and hand-made perforated iron screens.

Image Courtesy © Cox Rayner Architects

The architecture is inspired by the site’s deep rock fissures. Its plan is a journey from a narrow entry aperture to a spatial sequence that fans out to embrace the alluvial dinosaur plane below.
Through this project, we evolved a new Australian architectural ethos of evolving from the landscape.

Image Courtesy © Cox Rayner Architects

The Making

The AAOD Visitors Centre is to us as much about the making of architecture as its manifestation, in this case made by its community for visitation to support the regional economy.
To do this, the building is made from earth-concrete panels poured on site and imprinted with the earth’s texture and colour.  The process was inspired by our observing the latex moulds the volunteers use to cradle and protect the dinosaur bones which when unfolded retain the exact imprint of the fossils.  For the building, large latex mats were made up, pressed to the ground and the imprint transferred onto the wet concrete.
The panels form a 35 piece jig-saw of interlocking shapes that were tilted back and buttressed into position by local labour.  A second material, on-site hand-perforated iron screens, were fabricated to act as sliding walls and generator enclosures, forming illuminated lanterns at night.  From these elements, the Centre was created, acting in part as a chameleon in the landscape and in part as an abstraction of it.

Image Courtesy © Cox Rayner Architects

The Architectural Spaces and Forms
The Centre is accessed after long travel across vast flat alluvial plain and a 75 metre twining road up the mesa.  It is entered by a narrow aperture, an abstraction of the site’s characteristic rock fissures, from which it opens to an interpretive space that also acts to gather visitors from Australia and overseas who use their holidays to spend up to 3 months helping to dig, painstakingly conserve the dinosaur fossils, and assemble them.
A path leads around to the ‘type’ room, a museum-standard collections space where the assembled dinosaurs are displayed or interpretive talks.  Returning to the main space, it opens to form a parasol reaching out to an outdoor café from which the panorama of the dinosaur plains is revealed.
The building was designed in form and material to evolve from the mesa.  Its long tapering walls form supporting buttresses as well as deep fissures propped by rocks from the terrain.  Its impression thus changes dramatically around the building, wroughting it larger than it is and offering respite from the region’s blistering heat.

Image Courtesy © Cox Rayner Architects

The Detail

It is remarkable how the Elliott family (father, mother, two sons and a daughter) sought to impart their cattle-farming know-how in the detail.  It included an array of elements that enrich the visitor experience of this particular place in Queensland, for example, door handles of twined leather from local saddlery techniques, perforated iron lights from the process of making sieves, and handmade built-in furnishings.

The Success

Despite being three hours’ drive from the nearest airport at Longreach (the birthplace of the Qantas Airline), the Centre welcomed 16,000 overseas and Australian visitors in its first 8 months of operation, compared to only 2,000 in the preceding same period.

As salient, however, is that a struggling farm community has been revitalised by the making of the AAOD Visitors Centre to which they contributed $200,000 of hard-earned money, and now perform multiple roles of tour guides, conservators and curators.

In conclusion, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Visitor Centre has done several remarkable things.  For us, it has spawned a new architectural response to the country’s vase and ancient landscape.  For the visitor, it has honoured and facilitated experience of one of the world’s phenomenal historic periods.  For the community, it has transformed their regional economy and invigorated their spirit.

Image Courtesy © Cox Rayner Architects

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Category: Visitor Center

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