The Tim & Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre

by Arterial Design


Gold Winner

Play Space Design Built

Professionals Category

Designer / Architect: Jan Nowell
Studio: Arterial Design
Design Team: Jan Nowell, Nick Lawson, Daniel Sutton, Andressa Bassani, Anna Fitzpatrick, Naomi Farahzadi, Sandun Jayasinghe, Brodie Lowe
Country: Australia
Copyright: Anne Stroud


This immersive play space approaches storytelling through the lens of contemporary childhood early-learning theory. Each play experience connects stories extracted from objects within the museum collection and engages a multi-generational learning strategy encouraging carers and parents to share in content and learning outcomes. Multiple layers of engagement and all ages accessibility are designed into each story, addressing different learning styles and abilities. Consultation with Traditional Owners and artists from Wiradjuri Country and the Erub Island community of the Torres Strait enabled us to include work from Indigenous artists and to acknowledge diverse cultural perspectives on knowledge sharing and learning throughout the design and implementation process. We worked closely with the museum staff ensuring that there was a direct connection back to the objects displayed in the museum and the stories and themes captured in the narrative. The overarching framework for the design of the play space is a deconstructed 18th century sloop, inspired by Matthew Flinders circumnavigation of Australia in HMS Investigator. This “ship” inhabits the entire playspace through the use of architectural ribs, portholes and climbing structures. Animations, told through the portholes, transport visitors into six different stories and environments. Each of the six stories features a different Australian animal or mythological creature. The stories are reinforced through full-body interactive play opportunities which encourage the children to become and empathise with, the characters while acting out physical challenges. Our design engages participants to access the narratives at an emotional and a physical level. They are involved with the drama and passion of the content, as they experience the stories for themselves We have engaged with Traditional Owner artists from Wiradjuri Country from an early design phase for our graphic designs for the Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre at the National Museum of Australia. Traditional hand-drawn artwork of kangaroo tracks, flowers, wild grasses and their seeds were embedded and printed onto the walls as graphics and the pattern of a woven dilly bag was printed onto soft fabrics. Traditional Owner artists from the Erub Island community of the Torres Strait were engaged to weave ‘ghost nets’ that festooned the interior architecture, and a large-scale floor to ceiling hand-drawn mural formed a feature wall with integrated interaction points for children. These considerations for deeply embedded artwork were formed at the concept design stage and formed the basis for our continued developed design, construction, manufacture and install. Every production is the result of many disciplines and industry definitions coming together: industrial design, graphic design, interior architecture, digital and experiential design and of course, imagining what’s possible. Our work is inclusive, theatrical, immersive, imaginative, creative, visual and content-rich. It is highly technical and well resolved both physically and digitally, and often blends the mechanical with the sculptural. The desired outcome is that, through play, hands on making and exploration, a greater connection is made between children, the museum’s collection and greater Australian stories. As children grow and develop their interests, they will return to the museum and build on these early connections.

Arterial Design

We are a unique 2D, 3D and specialist multi-media design company that specifically caters for visitor destinations. We design and implement wholly immersive and intuitive spaces which bring the cutting-edge in technology and adventure. Our work includes multi-sensory experiences through playspace and exhibition design, produced in-house, with myriad multimedia solutions including animation, VR and gamification as powerful interpretive tools, graphic design and UI/UX, and 3D mechanical sculptures and interactives. Our vision was to bring together a group of specialists who are able to offer our clients a highly specialised team made up of some of Australia’s best practitioners and designers.

We encourage designers and architects to share their best projects with the rest of the world so as to inspire the next generation and gain global recognition.