Koorie Heritage Trust

Koorie Heritage Trust

“As architects we’re afforded a rare opportunity. We have the ability to step into a culture, a community, and work together to design spaces and structures with the potential to break down barriers and welcome you in.”

Carey Lyon, Director of Lyons

When it comes to representing Indigenous culture through the built environment, architecture and design play an important role. This project saw the relocation of the Koorie Heritage Trust from its former King Street premises into the refurbished Yarra Building at Federation Square. It was an opportunity for us to show the role that architecture and design can play in facilitating collaboration and representing culture in the community. The relocation held deep symbolism for the Koorie Heritage Trust hence our methodologies required thoughtful collaboration to connect our design thinking to Indigenous perspectives. With a united goal of amplifying and sharing indigenous culture in Melbourne’s CBD, Koorie Heritage Trust’s openness for collaboration was invaluable to our process. The result is a space designed through the lens of dialogue, placing Indigenous culture both literally and figuratively in the heart of Melbourne.

  • Sector


  • Key Lyons contacts

    Carey Lyon
    Sam Hunter
    Fiona Lew

  • Collaborators

    Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria

  • Client

    Koorie Heritage Trust

  • Location

    The Yarra Building at Federation Square

  • Traditional land

    Located on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people

  • Size

    950 square metres

  • Project status

    Complete, 2015

“The Koorie Heritage Trust’s move into the cultural heart of Melbourne city is a profound gesture of building visibility of Aboriginal culture here in Melbourne. The design of our premises allow Koorie and non-Koorie alike to engage with the living culture of Victoria’s First People, and reflects 60,000 years of lived history in a contemporary urban setting.”

Tom Mosby, CEO of the Koorie Heritage Trust

“At the core of the project was the capacity for cultural exchange and tangible opportunities for meaningful engagement. The design strategies sought to balance connections to history and memory…while embracing a new context adjacent to Birrarung (the Yarra), within the cultural hub of…Federation Square.”

Jefa Greenaway (Wailwan|Kamilaroi), Director – IADV and Greenaway Architects

Collaborating with
designers and artists

Enriching cultural

Sharing our

An opportunity for cultural exchange

The Koorie Heritage Trust relocation represented more than just the design of a building – it evolved into a cultural activity. More than simply about functionality or materials, the project became an opportunity for cultural exchange and meaningful engagement with the Trust’s community. 

The project is designed over two levels, beginning with an exhibition and retail space on the ground floor designed to meet and rest. At the top of the escalators, a graphic of the Manna Gum flower leads to the metaphorical front door and represents the abstraction of a smoking ceremony. From the top of the stairs, light floods from windows to draw people back to the lifeblood of the city – Birrarung (the Wurundjeri name for Melbourne’s Yarra River). We used colours in our designs to illicit nature – the sky, the water, the earth, the trees. 

The main space heroes a table of epic proportions, measuring 7.5 metres long and weighing 1 tonne. The table pays homage to design features from the King Street building that could not be brought to the new location, particularly the replica tree. As a memory of the tree, Jefa Greenaway from Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria (IADV) designed the table in the shape of a canoe referencing a scar tree, which is an Indigenious practice of scarring trees to remove bark and create canoes. Display panels and drawers housing artefacts resemble a river bed to the sides, encouraging people to gather and engage. Through space, colour and materials we designed the space to invite both Koorie and non-Koorie people to enrich themselves in a cultural experience. 

Design from dialogue

We believe collaboration is vital to the outcome of our projects and the more ideas brought to the table the better. We maintained close consultation with the Koorie Heritage Trust throughout the relocation and worked alongside IADV. Together with IADV, we created a Koorie stakeholder engagement process that became an important method of collaboration. We also relied on the input and knowledge of the Board of Koorie Heritage Trust that included Koorie Elders and community leaders. An online survey further helped to gather insights from voices within the broader community. 

The final design of the Koorie Heritage Trust was a direct result of these collaborative working methods. In particular, several stakeholders within the trust signed off on all aspects of design. We consulted with trust curators and collections staff about the appropriate display of significant collections, the exhibition space and layout. The workplace design was influenced by the staff themselves, to create open space for public engagement.

Positioning Koorie culture in the heart of Melbourne

The Trust’s significant, symbolic move from the margins of the city to its centre creates a place for Koorie living culture and the Koorie community to be celebrated and come together in the spirit of reconciliation. This process reveals the role we can play as architects in reconnecting people to history through physical space and design. Speaking on the importance of meaningful collaboration in our work, Director and co-founder at Carey Lyon said “At the core of the project was the capacity for cultural exchange and tangible opportunities for meaningful engagement. As architects we have the rare opportunity to step into a culture, a community, and work together to design spaces and structures with the potential to break down barriers and welcome you in.”

Koorie culture is present in all design aspects of the Koorie Heritage Trust. The diagonal or diamantine pattern used extensively throughout the interior (including painted on to the structural columns) is a specific pattern from traditional and contemporary Koorie community use—from tree carvings to shield markings. Our design took the opportunity to reframe the relationship with the Birrarung/Yarra River by maximising views to the Birrarung as Federation Square had ‘turned its back’ on the river. 

Key Contacts

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