Jeparit: Pioneer Museum Plaza

NMBW Architecture Studio discuss their urban projects in Jeparit in Victoria’s Wimmera-Mallee region.

August 1, 2008



This small public project is the first built outcome of a much broader urban design project undertaken by the project team, which seeks possibilities to seed a sustainable future for this small (pop. 300) wheatbelt town in the Wimmera-Mallee region of north-west Victoria (‘Rainbow + Jeparit Urban Design Plan’, 2004).

The urban design plan identified the Pioneer Museum as a key site for Jeparit: it is one of the few functioning public institutions in the town, has a strong volunteer base, and is highly visible as the first town structure from the main highway approach. Its close proximity to the multiple waterways and billabongs of the Wimmera River means the site can also act as an entrance for both locals and visitors to the extensive network of walking trails and bird watching opportunities currently ‘hidden’ behind levee banks of the river.

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One of the main aims of the longer-term urban strategy is to more strongly connect the town with the Wimmera River environment which enfolds it, even letting the river landscape ‘infiltrate’ public spaces and vacant blocks of the diminishing township, and thus generating a new type of landscape focus as the previously singular emphasis on agricultural production in the region recedes. Due to the extremely limited and fragile economy of these places, the urban plan sought out localised ‘pressure points’ such as the Pioneer Museum where small and achievable interventions could produce a significant effect.

The existing museum was surrounded by a 3-metre high chainlink security fence. Through considerable negotiation we persuaded the museum volunteers that the collection could be rearranged and security re-thought. By moving the front fence line back to butt-into the sides of the main building, a new public entrance forecourt was created, where the building becomes an active gatehouse (for both museum and town) as well as an ‘exhibit’.

The fixed budget of $70,000 was strategically spread across the new front fence, improved access, landscaping, lighting, signage, security, repairs and painting to the existing building, and public seating/ visitor facilities. The new facilities of the plaza serve both the museum and the river precinct – in fact they seek to join the two. Visitors may stop and choose to enter the museum or just look through the fence and wander down to the river. School groups can hold outside classes or eat lunch after visiting the museum exhibits. The verandah space of the existing building is lit and allowed to be used as a shaded public resting place.

The design of the various new elements is derived from arrangements and techniques found in the town, sometimes amplified for extra effect. A palette of simple public elements will form the basis for future related works in the area as the town evolves.

PROJECT CREDITS

  • Project name: Pioneer Museum Plaza, Jeparit
  • Architects: NMBW Architecture Studio + Urban Architecture Laboratory, RMIT
  • Date of Completion: April 2007
  • Project Team:
    • Nigel Bertram
    • Lucinda McLean
    • Marika Neustupny
    • Shane Murray
    • Carey Lyon
    • Laura Harper
    • Sarah Trotter
  • Consultants:
    • Landscape Architect: Fiona Harrisson
    • Graphics: Vivid Communications
    • Quantity Surveyors: Wilde and Woollard
    • Structural Engineer: Perrett Simpson Pty Ltd

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