WA Museum Boola Bardip

Designing for climate and Country, Hassell + OMA have created a shared cultural place that reflects the distinct Western Australian identity. 

With heritage and contemporary architecture framing vibrant communal spaces, WA Museum Boola Bardip celebrates the unique culture, history and landscape of Western Australia and contributes to revitalising the creative heart of its capital, Perth. Boola Bardip means many stories’ in the Nyoongar language and the museum reflects a care for the shared heritage of all West Australians.

A holistic investigation of the site, ecosystem and Indigenous culture informs the entire project. Going well beyond the brief, the design team turned the idea of a museum inside-out by asking how are these buildings connected to Country?’ Close collaboration with the Museum’s Aboriginal Advisory Group and Indigenous Elders of the Whadjuk mob provided an opportunity to investigate and reinstate the significance of place.

In a triumph of adaptive reuse, Hassell drove the restoration of five heritage-listed buildings and a series of creative interventions that reinvigorate once solid, heavy structures as permeable forms upgraded for exhibition excellence, universal access, and cultural connection.

Instead of programming hermetically-sealed spaces, the team opened each floor to external spaces and expansive terraces. Built forms are now highly transparent at ground level so visitors can view their contents and hear related stories from the public realm, engaging with the museum whether it is open or closed. Interspersed through the museum are retail spaces and places to eat and drink — with many open after hours — contributing to the precinct’s livelihood and growth.

Through respect and inquiry, the design team has reconciled the century-young built history of the site with thousands of generations of Indigenous understanding of the Country Boola Bardip sits on. As a result, the project is elevated from a heritage archaeological redevelopment into a culturally-enriched community place that environmentally transforms the entire cultural precinct.


Multiplex / State Government of Western Australia


Whadjuk Country
Perth, Australia









Design team

Mark Loughnan, Peter Dean, Brenden Kelly, Anthony Brookfield, David Gulland, Belinda Gilby, Benjamin Rees, Reuben Bourke, Hannah Galloway, David Hunt, Katherine Arrigan, Callum Chute, Philip Davies, Ricky Frazer, Sarah Gaikhorst, Wayne Greensill, Aysen Jenkins, Kaine Jenkins, Mark McKenna, Patrick O’Neil, Irene Payne, April Pine, Douglas William Pott, Thomas Proctor, Simon Rich, Michael Ruehr, Patrick Sims, Samuel Travers, Jill Turpin, Annika White, Lucy Elizabeth Wilson


Peter Bennetts

This is a bold and dynamic architectural statement that will draw locals and visitors to the cultural heart of Western Australia.”

Hon David Templeman MLA WA Minister for Culture and the Arts; Sport and Recreation; International Education; Heritage

I think this is one of the great cultural developments that we will see in this nation for many years, and a great opportunity for Perth.”

Mathew Trinca Director, National Museum of Australia

In dealing with the constraints of the site, the architects have made a wider urban design contribution — providing vital activation and renewal of the Perth Cultural Centre… [WA Museum Boola Bardip is] recognised as a design of national and international significance.”

— John Taylor, 2021 WA Architecture Awards Chair of Juries

Our sustainability principles encompass place, systems, carbon and the social aspects of every project. Adaptive reuse was a key driver for the project, with five existing buildings retained, restored and revitalised in the process.

The design delivers a high-performance building envelope. Daylight floods public circulation areas and shaded, external verandas allow natural ventilation of transitional spaces that would otherwise require air-conditioning (within the constraints of exhibition design). Deep shading to the façade is a deliberate response to Western Australia’s often harsh climate, as is the use of thermal mass to encapsulate heat by day and allow it to dissipate slowly through the galleries and City Room of an evening.

Boola Bardip’s building fabric utilises significant material technology advances throughout. For instance, an interstitial layer of woven mesh is laminated in the double glazing to reflect the harsh West Australian sun while retaining visual transparency. Seamless ceilings utilise a sustainable material made from mineral fibres to achieve high levels of acoustic performance in the old and new buildings.

Our project masterplan also prioritised incorporation of a precinct-wide central plant that has diminished carbon use across the cultural precinct by 40%. Local materials have been used across more than 70% of the project and water-wise, local native planting has been purposefully re-established throughout the site.

Embracing nature and connecting to Country is central to the success of the project, resulting in spaces where visitors can see, hear, feel, and experience the atmosphere in a comfortable and meaningful way. The storytelling in and outside the museum context and the openness of Boola Bardip’s spaces are a tribute to the design transformation and cultural engagement process. 

Four entry points into the precinct allow visitors to walk in and out freely — 24/7, 365 days of the year — a hugely important aspect for the Whadjuk traditional owners of the land and their kin. 

Key moments of connection to Country include featuring Indigenous stories and embedding tactile material touch points from Whadjuk Country; playing soundscapes overlaid with Elders’ voices, crackling fires, seasonal sounds; using mist to recall the cleansing smoke of ceremonial gatherings; and reinstating specific native plantings. These connections allow the Whadjuk mob to feel a renewed sense of belonging to their Country while signalling to members of other Nations that they’re entering a culturally significant location. These are also moments of implicit education where interstate and overseas visitors can sense the importance of the Whadjuk’s connection to the land. 

Our biggest contribution in terms of cultural significance was to transform a sorry place (with the Old Gaol at the centre of the development) into a place in which Indigenous communities would meet and gather. One of the proudest moments on the project was when Reconciliation Action Week chose its meeting point as the Museum.”

— Peter Dean, Principal

Reworked interiors are designed as a series of virtual stories’ that guide visitors through the major galleries to experience more of the state’s collections. Two intersecting loops mean visitors can explore the museum through vertical and horizontal pathways.

A new 1,000 sqm gallery is optimised to accommodate blockbusters and major exhibitions from around Australia and the world. 

The connection of the highly significant existing buildings to new volumes, [allows] the museum to unfold in a series of exciting spatial experiences”

— Australian Institute of Architects WA Awards Jury

2021 Australian Institute of Architects — WA Architecture Awards

  • John Septimus Roe Award for urban design
  • Jeffrey Howlett Award for public architecture
  • George Temple Poole Award for the most worthy of all the winners.

2021 Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (WA) Awards

  • Award of Excellence in Civic Landscape
  • Landscape Architecture Award in Cultural Heritage

WA Museum Boola Bardip is a superb facility for Western Australians to both understand and celebrate their special place in the world.”

— Australian Institute of Architects WA Awards Jury

More on the awards

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