Greater Sydney is bounded to the West by the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, forming a rare adjacency between global city and pristine wilderness. Echo Point, with direct train and highway connection to Sydney is the main arrival point for five million visitor per year to the Blue Mountains.
In this location, a new information centre can become a point of reference for the entire Blue Mountains with the same transformative impact as the Torri gates of Japan; structures that mark a transition from the mundane to sacred. As a gateway, the new centre can lead visitors from the existing lookout into the bush for direct encounters with the landscape’s remarkable cultural, geological and ecological history.
The Darug and Gundungurra indigenous communities have a long and spiritual connection with the Blue Mountains country. At their suggestion, the new centre blends architecture and landscape to provide ideal settings for cultural exchange. A simple sheltering gesture with the centre’s new roof will connect the site’s peripheries into a singular composition that invites exploration beyond a previously confined perimeter. The centre becomes a continuation of walking trails that reach far into the distant valleys. A roof overhang defines an entry to the trails and suggests a gathering place for laces to be tied and guides to be met within the protected fern gully micro-climate. Horizontally proportioned and gently sloping in parallel to the natural 1:40 gradient, the centre is a grounded space that merges with the terrain of plateaus and gorges carved from ancient sandstone.
Dense eucalyptus forest blankets one million hectares of the Blue Mountains. The perfumed oils exhaled by each breathing tree are so abundant that incoming light is scattered by their presence, a phenomenon that contributes to a visible blue aura in the region’s atmosphere. The new visitor centre is a sequence of external interiors that bathe in this unique air. The centre has no walls. A timber block, containing storage, staff services, information kiosk and merchandise display is sculpted in parallel to the concrete roof above. The block is a spine between the arrival forecourt and the centre’s public spaces for retail, information, exhibition and events. An operable, sinuous skin of glass moderates the rain and wind. Through the transparent facade a wall of forest encloses the interior. Amongst the tree trunks are tangential glimpses of the iconic Three Sisters. Views are not framed, the landscape and architecture are experienced as one. The ceiling is an uninterrupted surface supported with a minimum of vertical steel columns. The sheltering concrete mass is dematerialised as the mountain light is reflected and intensified from the soft polished sheen.
By Toby Breakspear, Tiffany Liew, Ciaran Acton, in collaboration with CHROFI, 2015-Current. Structural Engineering by Cantilever. For Blue Mountains City Council