Kempsey Visitor Information Centre
Kempsey Shire heritage

Visitor Information Centre

Visitor Information CentreVisitor Information Centre Visitor Information Centre (aerial)Visitor Information Centre (aerial)
Information deskInformation desk

The Tourist Information Centre and Historical Museum in South Kempsey Park represents an important drawing together of the many strands of Glenn Murcutt's architecture. It is a crystalisation of taste not all that different from Shibui.

The building belongs to the land, the land claims it as its own. In Australia it is the landscape which is the environment of man and architecture of the calibre of the museum springs from an imaginative identification with the land. History, after waiting for so long, has at least been answered. It is much too soon to say whether the museum is the first truly Australian building. Time must be the judge of that. What is undeniable is that the building owes little or nothing to overseas fashion and represents the culmination of a line of development that began back in 1974 or 1975 and which moved forward gradually with very little deviation from its goal towards the achievement of a new form of consciously endemic Australian architecture.

In setting out to be no more nor less than an honest reflection of itself, of what the building wants to be, Murcutt succeeded in saying something quite profound about the quality of presence of buildings in the native landscape.

The building demonstrates that a genuine native architecture should be "unnoticeable" a flimsy presence whose existence does not disturb the quiet dreaming of the land. The museum heralds an architecture as unaggressive as the shadows of the leaves.

(Extract from "Leaves of Iron. Glenn Murcutt Prioneer of an Australian Architectural Form" by Phillip Drew - published by The Law Book Company, 1985.)

The building contains a tourist information centre, museum and theatrette, designed to blend in with the gently sloping site scattered with well established trees. the surrounding park has been landscaped, ample parking has been provided and picnic spots, barbecues, playground equipment and toilets have been included, making an ideal "stopping off" point for the traveller.

Date started: January 1982
Date completed: November 1982
Date opened: 16 April, 1983

The architect, Glenn Murcutt

Glenn Murcutt Glenn Murcutt Unique roof detail - Visitor Information CentreUnique roof detail - Visitor Information Centre
Artist impression of Visitor Information CentreArtist impression of Visitor Information Centre

Despite warnings that he would never make a living out of domestic architecture, Glenn Murcutt went into private practice in 1969. Since then, he has become one of Australia's most successful architects, winning a record seven Merit Awards for houses since 1975. His work has attracted 22 architectural awards at State level, including five Wilkinson Awards for housing, three Blacket Awards for country architecture and one Sulman Award for works other than housing.

At national level, he has received four awards, the first Robin Award for housing and another later, a Sir Zelman Cowan Commendation for the Museum at Kempsey and the Timber in Architecture Award. His work has gained international status, having had many works published overseas and representing Australia through travelling exhibitions. He received the International Commonwealth Architects Association Award for an architecture responding to place and its culture.

In 1987 Glenn Murcutt was invited to address the Architectural Leaqgue of New York on his work as well as sit on the American Institute of Architects/Sunset Magazine, Western Division Housing Awards, as the external juror.

Glenn Murcutt was born in Lordon of Australian parents. He spent his early years in the New Guinea highlands, where his father operated a gold mine.

The family returned to Australia in 1941 and went to live first at Manly on the Lagoon, and then in the bush at Clontarf. Upon graduation in 1962, Murcutt left Australia for London where he worked with Ian Fraser and Associates. Each year he travelled in Europe, spending some months in Yugoslavia, Poland, Scandinavia, Greece.

Of all countries, the one which influenced him the most was Greece, where he spent six months with a Greek family. In the Greek islands, he discovered the simplicity of this architecture, its inevitability and rationale. He was impressed by the use of a limited number of materials which achieved, when understood, a most poetic architecture. This simplicity, together with the understanding of place, has had considerable influence on his search for an appropriate architecture in Australia.

Upon returning to Australia in 1965, Murcutt went to work with Ancher Mortlock Murray and Woolley. Ancher was then the doyen of Sydney architects, but Murcutt claims to have been influenced by him more as a human being than as an architect.

In 1969 Murcutt set up his own practice and has worked for the most part as a sole operator since then and has carried out extensive overseas travel.

Glenn Murcutt is a country person. One of his major preoccupations as an architect is the relationship of his buildings to the landscape, nature and the bush. To him, a building is a filter between man and the elements.

The Kempsey Museum

Interior Kempsey MuseumInterior Kempsey Museum Interior Kempsey MuseumInterior Kempsey Museum

The site of the Kempsey Cultural Centre is located to the west of the Pacific Highway, south of the township of Kempsey, within South Kempsey Park. The North Coast Railway is located to the south and west. Trees are well established over most of the site, with the site falling gently to the south.

The Macleay Historical Society, first approached architect Glenn Murcutt in 1976 seeking assistance in the design of a museum to house the content of local history and artefacts.

The project was funded by Council, the local community, the New South Wales Government (Department of Tourism, Division of Cultural Activities, Premier's Department) and the Macleay River Historical Society.

The site involves itself with buildings of a very simple nature. The linearity of the design is strongly related to the contours and is not unsympathetic with many of the farm buildings existing in the region. The overall scale of the building relates well in its siting to the park within which it is set and the method of planning provides for individual roofing to each of the gallery exhibitions which is compatible with many of our earlier buildings.

The building was designed to permit the extensions both in length and width. The extension provides nearly double the museum space which contains space for some storage, an office, covered external exhibitions as well as housing some farming implements and an historic truck. The addition has been so designed to form a courtyard between it and the settler's cottage.

Because there is only access to the building by foot from the car parking areas from the east-southeast, the architect positioned an entry verandah nestled between the museum and the tourist office/theatrette.

The corrugated iron ceilings have good reflective properties, both light and acoustic. Strip lighting set below the truss chords runs continuously along the length of the wings and are set so that light is directed up as well as down.

The architect described the entire project as one of the most rewarding of the experiences he has had.