Snøhetta-led Team Wins Competition for UNESCO World Heritage Site Education Center in Tasmania


© Brick Visuals

© Brick Visuals

Snøhetta, in collaboration with Australian firms Liminal Studio and Rush Wright Associates, has been selected as the winner of an international competition for the design of the new History and Interpretation Center at Cascades Female Factory Historic Site in South Hobart, Tasmania.

One of the most significant female penal sites dating back to 19th century, when Australia was still a British penal colony, the Cascades Female Colony was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. The new History and Interpretation Center will allow visitors to learn about the site’s history and how its social, cultural and political implications have impacted present day Australia.


© Snøhetta

© Snøhetta

The winning design concept stresses the experiential dualities found in the site – the “struggle between light and dark, imprisonment and liberty, punishment and reform, threat and opportunity, horror and hope.” This has manifest itself in the architecture of the new structure, where indoor and outdoor spaces will be integrated into a symbiotic whole. At the core of the design is an open forum referred to as the “empatheatre” (a portmanteau of empathy and amphitheater), where lectures, performances and discussions of present-day events can be discussed within its historical context.

The visitor path through the center has also been imagined as a phenomenological experience, as scale and proportion are used to aid in the understanding of the prisoners’ experiences. Transparent floors will offer views into the excavated foundations beneath the building, will interpretive spaces will give visitors the opportunity to come face to face with the past.


© Brick Visuals

© Brick Visuals

“The journey into the History and Interpretation Centre is guided through a long, isolated walk with only the sky as the connection to the outside. Removed from reach and slowly stripped of the natural world, visitors are disconnected from the familiarity of their everyday environment and are confronted by the despair of the female convicts,” explain Snøhetta.

Located along the Hobart Rivulet, the museum’s landscape design will unveil the layers of human settlement in the area and their interaction with the land’s natural processes. A selection of the ruins of the former penal buildings will be expressed with sensitive landscaping to call out their historic significance, while others will planted with wild gardens as a metaphor for “the ability of nature to heal.”

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