Prime Minister Tony Abbott has unveiled the winning design for a new $100 million Western Front interpretive centre that will be added to the rear of the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, France.
To be half sunken into the ground with a floating turf roof, the Sir John Monash Centre is designed by Cox Architecture and named after General Sir John Monash, a meticulous planner and engineering genius whose leadership broke the stalemate on the Western Front in 1918 – a victory that would become the template for the much larger operations that followed.
The new 1,000sqm building, designed to be quiet and contemplative, is inspired by the existing National Memorial, which bears the names of over 10,700 Australians who died in France and have no known grave. The centre will rest gently beside this memorial, its simple meadow roof a ‘floating field’ that respects instead of hinder views of the battlefields from the memorial’s tower.
Locating the interpretive centre at the site of the national memorial is consistent with the design approaches taken by Britain, Canada and South Africa.
Entry into the centre is via trench-like ramps that slope downwards into dark and sombre entry chambers. In the foyer, natural light shines in through a central oculus, which also forges a visual connection with the memorial’s tower.
Approximately 483sqm of the space will be dedicated to an interpretive area providing an integrated, multi-media experience telling the story of the 290,000 Australians who served in France and Belgium during the First World War. An immersive gallery at the centre, delivered by Melbourne’s Convergence Associates, will “envelop the visitor”.
Visitors leave the centre to a light-filled, quiet courtyard, where stairs rise up to overlook the site of Sir John Monash’s famous victory at Le Hamel.
The Sir John Monash Centre is the focal point of the existing Australian Remembrance Trail on the Western Front, which links First World War sites of significance to Australia, including museums, battlefield, memorials and cemeteries. It is expected to open in two years, ahead of Anzac Day 2018.
Watch a fly-through of the Sir John Monash Centre below: