The Shrine of Remembrance is Melbourne’s most visible and poignant war memorial. ARM’s additions have expanded it from purely a monument to an exhibition space and education facility. Our designs are full of references and symbols—overt and otherwise—to Australians at war.
The Shrine is significantly raised above the surrounding park, for architectural and monumental impact. It sits upon massive brick columns that create a vast dirt-floor undercroft inside a grassy mound. Originally, there were no facilities for the Shrine volunteers or Victoria Police guards who worked there and no disability access. Veterans in wheelchairs had to be carried up the steps.
In the early 1980s, the Anzac Day Dawn Service attracted around 2000 people; in 2015 there were more than 85,000.
In the late 1990s, the Shrine of Remembrance Trustees chose to provide services for staff and visitors in the undercroft space. Apart from dignified disability access, the Trustees were also aware of a growing public yearning for younger generations to learn the history of Australian conflicts, and to understand the contributions their forebears had made.
Before we began designing, we consulted and engaged closely with veterans’ groups and peak bodies including the RSL, Legacy, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Department of Defence, heritage authorities, the Australian War Memorial and the City of Melbourne.
Our Shrine masterplan and designs are innovative yet sensitive to the Shrine’s historical and symbolic functions. Our four walled courtyards are the only additions visible externally and their boundaries reference parts of the original 1920s Hudson and Wardrop design that were never built. The Galleries of Remembrance and education centre are major additions yet, because they’re concealed in the existing undercroft, they have not altered the Shrine’s footprint or silhouette. The original design had diagonal axes, which we have realised as the four entry courtyards. The courtyards, dug into the hillside, create a tranquil transition from the public park into the solemn Shrine environment.
“What’s impressive about this work is that ARM, not exactly known for showing restraint in their designs, have tempered their hand to produce one of their best and most satisfying works.”
—Joe Rollo, The Age, 11 November 2014
What did we do?
The new interior spaces are all inside the undercroft space.
The Shrine now serves a range of public functions including exhibitions and lectures. The education centre is tailored for primary and secondary student programs, which are linked to the AusVELS Australian curriculum requirements. Learning hubs focused on the First World War, Second World War and Peacekeeping are inside the Galleries of Remembrance. There is also a lecture auditorium, which is poppy red throughout with acoustically designed wall panels covered with relief images of peace cranes. It incorporates top-quality audio-visual technology.
These include foyers for the Visitors and Education centres, the Galleries of Remembrance, offices and auditorium. In the spirit of the Shrine’s heritage role, our interior concept communicates and symbolises the experiences of Australians at war. It is never a pure aesthetic.
At the core of our approach was retaining the raw presence of the undercroft space. The first step for the Galleries of Remembrance interiors was to remove the chest-height undercroft band beams. We used rough-hewn timber formwork to make replicas of the original beams, and then installed them at head-clearance height.
We kept the Galleries unadorned. The floor is epoxy render made from locally sourced sand. It is a neutral backdrop to the beautifully rough laid brickwork and it recalls barracks floors or troops disembarking on war-torn shorelines. The ceiling is the simple underside of the concrete slab above; the brick columns remain bare.
There are elements of the surreal: flanking the stair to the Galleries are static curtains of glass-reinforced concrete. The administration office has glass doors with full-size photographic prints of the decorated-metal monument doors above.
The Galleries of Remembrance are an adaptive reuse of the existing undercroft space. The undercroft is insulated by the natural thermal envelope of the surrounding earth and we installed insulation on the underside of the existing floor slab (undercroft roof). Elsewhere, we used Austral Plywoods plantation pine, which conforms to the Australian Forestry Standard, extensively in the auditorium and southern corridor and foyer. The education centre and corridor floorings are phthalate-free Bolon woven vinyl.
We sourced materials locally to minimise shipping wherever possible. These include Melbourne-made Schiavello and Camatic furniture. The stone for the courtyard walls comes from the same Tynong quarry as the stone for the original Shrine building.