National Museum of Australia Forecourt

This project engulfs the Museum in a new landscape filled with symbols, meanings and messages.

The 2001 National Museum of Australia is one of ARM’s most inventive, daring and controversial buildings.

In 2017 we created a new masterplan for it, and our 2020 landscaped forecourt is the first completed element.

We collaborated with people from the local Ngunnawal, Ngambri and Ngunawal nations and TCL landscape architects, who led the planting design.

One of the big ideas guiding our Museum design is the Boolean String—a pentagonal extrusion that coils and folds and tangles in three dimensions all over the site. It embodies our views on Australian history as being tangled and incomplete.

The String is mostly imaginary, but we have made it corporeal in several places to shape key elements, including the huge existing forecourt loop.

The new forecourt realises more parts of the String.

Masterplan image with the forecourt site in pink.

In the garden’s centre is a smoking-ceremony stone with a bowl-shaped cavity.

It’s surrounded by paving embedded with twinkling LED lights that form an abstract constellation effect (designed by Firefly).



Beyond the Welcome to Country sequence lie the Mosaic Gardens. They are inspired by the Indigenous practice of firestick farming for clearing and to produce regrowth.

The patchwork effect of the planting is reminiscent of patterns of new forest growth after a fire. All the species are indigenous and many are edible.

The Welcome Wall is clad in mirror-polished stainless-steel panels that reflect altered, angled images of their surrounds. The wall’s leaning, curving jaunty shape is derived from the pentagonal String.

Among the mirror balls, there are marker plaques on the cobbled path by the Welcome Wall pointing towards significant Indigenous sites.

The landscape design is rich with references. The cobbled path passes under the original forecourt loop, forming a shadowed, covered walkway.

It is meticulously oriented so that each 26 January, the shadow on the path aligns exactly with the loop above symbolising a bitumen freeway tearing through a landscape.

The big yellow umbrellas are a homage to Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Umbrellas projects.

The forecourt leads to the new entrance to the Garden of Australian Dreams and the Gallery of First Australians. Beside it is a stone amphitheatre—a gathering point for groups such as school excursions.

The forecourt now engulfs the Museum in landscape, rather than the paving that it replaces. More than a route to the building, it is a destination in itself to sit and rest, or to play.