Michael Davies Architecture

Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre, Garden Island

The RAN Heritage Centre is the primary facility in Australia for the public exhibition of the Naval Heritage Collection and is therefore a high-visibility project of national significance. It is a unique facility within one of the most historic and beautiful locations on Sydney Harbour and is available for all to enjoy, in the Public Access Precinct of an active Defence installation at Fleet Base East and Garden Island dockyard.

The RAN Heritage Centre comprises Buildings 7/8 and 25 and landscaped surrounds. As the Centre exhibits a collection of considerable public importance, accordingly it must project this image. Michael Davies Architecture's design therefore complements the historical importance of the location, while sympathetically maximising the existing heritage building structure and making optimal use of the spectacular harbour location. The Centre also demonstrates current best practice design principles in building technology and building services in such areas as:

• energy conservation principles

• robust, low-maintenance, long-life materials

• insulation, vapour barriers and sealing against air infiltration

Our objective for the RAN Heritage Centre was to create an innovative and totally unique, yet contextually appropriate, facility in which the story of Australia’s Navy from colonial times to the present day could be explored and experienced within the beautiful and historic Garden Island Public Access Precinct.  

Sensitive treatment of the existing building fabric and landscaped surrounds were considered to be essential for the optimal interpretation of the history of both the buildings and the Collection accommodated within, while also providing a range of services to the public beyond the exhibition galleries themselves.

Heritage Considerations

The buildings made available by the RAN at Garden Island are known as Buildings 7/8 and 25. Building 7/8 (‘7’ refers to the northern portion of the building and ‘8’ to the southern portion) is located within a heritage precinct which is listed on the Register of the National Estate. The building, known as ‘the Gun Mounting Workshop’ reflecting its former function, was constructed in 1922 and is considered to be of heritage significance. Building 25, known as ‘the Boatshed’, was constructed in 1896.

The heritage significance of the Garden Island naval precinct is clearly established and well defined. It is listed on the Register of the National Estate (RNE) and a draft Conservation Management Plan. The Public Access Precinct contains a number of relics from Garden Island’s long history, including the earliest known graffiti in Australia, which dates from January 1788, fortifications from the colonial period, the first grass tennis court in Australia, a heritage rose garden and 150 year old trees.

The following aspects were considered in the preparation of Michael Davies Architecture's design:

• the requirement for sympathetic integration of new elements into a heritage building

• the requirement for an appreciation of the nation’s industrial heritage and to convey this to the public

• the need to engage the public not only in the exhibitions within the building but with the history of the building itself

• the high-profile nature of the project

• the importance of incorporating ecologically sustainable design and passive solar design principles 

• the services provided by  Michael Davies Architecture as lead consultant including base building audit, design and documentation