AAA Looks at Orange Regional Museum

Image 1 - Entrance Image

Orange, NSW, like many regional Australian towns, is generally read from the main street. Often the highway running through to the next town, the architecture that faces is composed of the expected Federation pubs and neo-something shopfronts, spotted with some Art Deco glam.

Of course, there are many modern experiments and plenty of less ornate shopfronts that fill out these towns, but a shard of concrete steadily rising from the streetscape, supporting a green roof would be a surprise. In 2016, this is precisely what Orange needed, and got, with the new Regional Museum. The bold move has excited the streetscape and animated its cultural precinct.

AAA Looks at Orange Regional Museum

Image 2 - Civic Theatre

The idea for a clearly defined cultural precinct in Orange was a gradual process. The precinct would serve the greater Cabonne region in the Central West of NSW. While other structures were utilised throughout Orange in the middle of the century, it was not until the opening of the Orange Civic Theatre in 1976 that it approached realisation. Almost a decade later, the Regional Library and Gallery was constructed.

AAA Looks at Orange Regional Museum

Image 3 - Library and Gallery

Both structures were distinctly modern in style, stepping outside the comfort zone of the regional mining town. The Civic theatre is all bright Orange render, retro red tiles on curved extrusions, and concrete shades. The Library, as approached, a network of red columns supporting a Stirling-esque glazed forecourt of abstract planes, bracketed by a grid of concrete with tiled in-fill.

The public space bounded by the two opened out onto Byng and Peisley Streets. Scattered with sculptures and mostly composed of a stepped grassy knoll, it faced a Beaurepairs, car wash, and IGA car park.

AAA Looks at Orange Regional Museum

Image 4 - Image from across the road of the Museum

It was not until 2013, with Crone Architects’ winning proposal for the Regional Museum, that the precinct achieved its current level of urban clarity. The 1100sqm proposal was presented as a folded roof plane of occupiable public space that sheltered the Museum, Information Centre, and Cafe. Completed in 2016, it encloses the precinct not by turning away from the streetscape but activating it.

Image 5 - Roof entry point

This green roof plane rises from the corner, folding upwards to the north to enclose a courtyard bounded by the Gallery, Library, and Civic Theatre. The soft incline of the southern facade sensitively encloses the cultural precinct while maintaining a level of openness to the street, exposing the grassed roof plane. It is not uncommon to see children rolling down the grassy hill on a dry day.

AAA Looks at Orange Regional Museum

Image 6 - View up pathway of roof

Travelling up this publicly open incline, the spire of the Holy Trinity Church ascends into view, bounded by the Museum’s green roof and the neighbouring canopy of Robertson park. Following the path inwards along the northern eave of the earthen shard, green views turn to stone, the courtyard all concrete and pebbled paving.

AAA Looks at Orange Regional Museum

Image 7 - View to Cafe from Museum

To the northeast, the occupiable roof plane folds back down to form an Amphitheatre to the courtyard, for outdoor performance or simply a spot in the sun. This is bracketed by the glass roofed forecourt of the Gallery and Library, and the underside of the green roof that shelters the cafe and Museum behind.

AAA Looks at Orange Regional Museum

Image 7 - Cafe

Entering the cafe itself, the simple gesture of the rising roof plane continues to pay dividends. Completely glazed to the north, its eave permits appropriate sunlight in, in a town vulnerable to vicious summer heat as well as bitter winters. It is light, spilling out into the courtyard, while feeling protected as it backs into the crevice of the falling slope.

AAA Looks at Orange Regional Museum

Image 8 - Information Centre

The shard of earth, descending back to the ground plane on the southern wall, houses the Information Centre and Museum Gallery. The roof slopes downwards through the gallery, terminating in a small activity space for the broader Museum.

AAA Looks at Orange Regional Museum

Image 9 - Museum

The addition of the Regional Museum has enlivened this quiet pocket of Orange, and it has been nationally recognised for this. Crone Architects’ contribution, in association with Urbis, received the Sulman Medal for Public Architecture in 2017.

Its clarity, as a steadily rising roof plane that houses public amenity, manages to enclose the cultural precinct while maintaining the same level of openness to the street the initial park provided. It is an important lesson: how a simple gesture can serve many demands.

Prepared by the Australian Architecture Association, AAA: researched, photos and written by Jackson Birrell, edited by Tone Wheeler.

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