National Museum of Australia Café

The National Museum of Australia is one of ARM’s most inventive, daring and controversial buildings. ARM and Peck von Hartel Trethowan Architects jointly won the project in a 1997 international design competition. NMA occupies 11 hectares of Canberra’s Acton Peninsula, on Lake Burley Griffin.

NMA opened in 2001 and we have been involved in works ever since to expand and develop it, and adjust it to changes in usage. In 2013, we completed a new café.

The café is a golden, ply-lined tunnel protruding from the existing Main Hall. Our original NMA design was based on the idea of many strings tied together to form a Boolean knot. We imagined pulling one of these strings up and over Lake Burley Griffin and then looping it back into the building to create the pentagonal tube that is the café.

The resulting black-roofed café is made from aluminium-clad steel ribs. The big, clear windows are double-glazed, letting the light and the views stream in. We put a papery yellow colour through the concrete floor to make it appear warmer and softer.

The original café was inside the hall and there was a small fine dining restaurant. Now there is simply a café, extended to seat up to 200 people inside and another 50 on a deck looking onto Lake Burley Griffin. The café has a 180 m2 commercial kitchen that can cater for up to 400 people at a function. It is one of the few places in Canberra where you can dine right on the water.

All internal spaces include low emission finishes, recycled products and low-emission hoop-pine plywood lining. Where possible, we have used Australian-made furniture and fittings.