Eureka Salute

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In a shift of house style, Cox Sanderson Ness deliver a compelling museum in memorium to the 1854 Eureka Stockade; the bloody battle between goldminers and colonial troops near Ballarat.

Photography Patrick Bingham-Hall

top Flag detail. above Looking north-west towards the rear of the building.

The Hall of Debate on the north and west sectors of the building.

Facade and roof details.

Flagpole base detail.

Project Description
Cox Sanderson Ness (Melbourne office of the Cox Group) have designed a visitors’ centre on the outskirts of Ballarat to commemorate one of the defining moments of Australia’s history: the 1854 Eureka Stockade, which is thought to have triggered a gradual transition from British colonial rule to democratic self-government. The Eureka incident was the climax of protests by gold miners against police brutality and excessive taxes. On a hill in the Ballarat goldfields, 400 miners gathered inside a makeshift stockade and swore allegiance to a new flag of the Southern Cross. After this ceremony, in the early hours of the morning, 200 sleeping miners were attacked by 500 troops. Thirty-five miners and five soldiers were killed-and the massacre aroused enormous public concern about human rights.

In its design for the Eureka Centre, Cox Sanderson Ness adapted the key symbolic gestures of the original Stockade in an intentionally non-literal way. The original flag was flown horizontally but the new flag flies vertically from a 50 metre-high mast which soars on an angle (not as a vertical post) above the visitor pavilion. The mast penetrates the centre’s roof like a skewer and is tensioned across three truss beams and supported by cables. In plan, the architects recall the original Stockade hill (its exact location is still debated), with heavy masonry walls curving around the centre’s symbolic cores: an internal contemplation space and a commemorative lawn on the roof. To the north and west of those cores are exhibition, commercial, administration and commemorative facilities, including an outdoor café. The facade is distinguished by a bellied screen of horizontal oregon slats which evoke (again not literally) the Stockade’s original fence posts. Environmental benefits include passive ventilation through automated louvres at high and low levels, thermal insulation through subterranean spaces and masonry walls; evaporative cooling instead of air conditioning, and sunscreening via the slatted facade.

Architect’s Statement by Patrick Ness
Eureka is a landform building-a response which balances architecture with a sacred site. Layered within the design is the concept of democracy and there are three key generators of the expression: the flag, the circular plan and the use of the earth. The building form is established by an inner circle of precast panels, symbolising the rock in which the miners toiled and creating a raised mound like the one on which the miners stood. The flag-largest in the southern hemisphere and visible from all parts of Ballarat-is draped atop the mound and aligned with the axis of Ballarat’s main street to link the town to this historic event. It was paramount to us to successfully integrate architecture, landscape, exhibition and art in a new and united way. A substantial part of the building is ‘in’ the landscape (underground), to allude to the fact that much of the content of Eureka is associated with mining-and to allow the symbolism of the flag to be the iconic element.

Comment by Anthony Styant-Browne
Perched precariously on the building like a giant stick insect 50 metres high, a super-scaled Eureka flag marks the site of Cox Sanderson Ness’ Eureka Stockade Centre from kilometres around Ballarat. Closer inspection reveals that the slender mast of the structure actually penetrates its roof, pinning the building to earth. Mimicking the defiant gesture of the rebellious miners, the flag, in concert with a curved precast concrete wall, cleverly extends the centre’s territorial claim way beyond its relatively small program, in the same way as the 1854 uprising reverberated through the English colonies and Australia’s history.

Site and building parti result in a highly ordered structure which provides a surprisingly open armature around which visitors and participants can construct their own interpretations of Eureka. A new ground plane creates an under (and over) world; the eastern extension of Sturt Street to the original monument is an axis of movement from below to above, and a line of division between major programmatic elements-café (south) and display/theatre genealogy (north); the contemplation space on this axis is an intersection with the commemorative axis from the genealogy tower to a small lake; and an undulating diagonal, the original Eureka ‘lead’, divides the site into Eurocentric (existing exotic planting) and Australian (indigenous plantings in ranks) domains. Derived from mapping of traces on the site, this structure sets up a number of oppositions which provide a lens through which the centre’s participants view the Eureka incident.

Movement through the building is a choreography of axial and concentric patterns, defined by clear paths and punctuated by strongly figural places-a superb built example of Norberg-Schultz’s schemas of place, path and domain. Approached axially across a forecourt, the entrance requires the visitor to execute a Lutyens side step off axis into the foyer, from which he/she can resume an axial procession up the stairs beside a narrow slot of water-paved space to the piano nobile of the grassed gathering space; or make a hard left into the tall, annular space of the temporary exhibition area with its inwardly canted walls-one glazed behind a bulging timber slatted screen. The spaces have an attenuated, yet compressed quality which one imagines is characteristic of underground architecture. Two spaces in this suite are quite remarkable: the genealogy tower is a tall, truncated trapezoidal pyramid penetrated by the flag mast, from which a path leads past a sunken, gravelled courtyard, animated with shadows of the flag above, to the contemplation space- a silent, smooth-walled conical chamber containing a relic of the original Eureka flag. Water plays softly at its floor’s perimeter, reflecting the play of light at the ceiling. Those spaces given over to exhibition have been drained of architectural presence through conversion into scenographic settings for multi-media presentations of the Eureka experience-a commercial and popular necessity. This is OK and part of offering a plurality of interpretations of Eureka.

The Eureka Centre explores three different architectures simultaneously: the architecture of the earth through berm, curved concrete retaining wall, thick-walled top-lit cells; the architecture of the sky through sticky timber trusses and pergolas recalling mine vent scoops; and the architecture of flight through the flag’s light framework of struts and ties rigged like the wings of an old Tiger Moth aircraft. To pull this off is difficult but the architects succeed, despite some ragged seams here and there. Skewering through the building, the mast is at once a crucial connector and a foreign body violently penetrating the structure. This violation demands to be acknowledged but, at the highly charged junction of mast and roof, there is a penetration as perfunctory as a plumbing vent flashing.

At the opening of the building on March 27, Premier Kennett (wisely declining to fire a cannon shot; sensitive to the issue of gun control), remarked on the meaning of the Eureka story to contemporary Australian culture and the role which would be played by the centre in focusing debate and interpretation of that event. On that brilliant, blue-skied day in the crowded gathering space, as the blue and white balloons were released into the sky, his words rang true. The architects of the Eureka Centre had established a profound sense of place and occasion.

Tony Styant-Browne is the principal of Anthony Styant-Browne Architecture & Urban Design in Melbourne.

Eureka Stockade Interpretive Centre, Ballarat, Victoria
Architects Cox Sanderson Ness—Julian Venning; assistant architects Anna Power and Vera Batalha. Client City of Ballarat. Structural Engineer James Taylor & Associates. Mechanical Engineer Nappin Associates. Hydraulic Engineer DC Hydraulics. Acoustic Engineer Louis Challis Associates. Quantity Surveyor Donald Bayley Associates. Heritage ConsultantbTrevor Howells. Contractor Beach Constructions. Builder Hocker Cockram.



Published online: 1 May 1998


Architecture Australia, May 1998

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