This proposal is about taking the Puffing Billy visitor experience and investing it in a single building. It is an architectural response that contains the excitement of travelling through a tunnel, the thrill of being on a bridge high over the ground and the sublime feeling of seeing the landscape anew. The project is emphatically integrated with the landscape, which occurs over and under the building as well as acting as a kind of infrastructure to deliver visitors easily to the upper and lower entries.
The landscape response recasts the indigenous narrative of the project by providing a figured clearing within the native vegetation and reintroducing endemic species as an immersive and sculptural roof to the new building.
This new planting has been designed to comply with the requirements of the Bushfire Management Overlay. This competition response honours Puffing Billy’s heritage by deciding not to ape it in a new building, but instead deciding to annex a language of simple materials, the off-the-shelf and the out-of-catalogue.
These elements are deployed in a new scale that is a fitting response for a public building, but which allows the materiality, grain and eccentricity of the heritage buildings to shine. In addition, the history of the railway and its volunteers are respected by being given the projects best spaces – the dramatic landscape tunnels next to the new platform – as a place in which to tell their stories and show their history.
This new Visitors Centre has an agency outside of its site boundary, performing important roles of connecting, super-changing and enabling the use of the wider Emerald Lake site and bringing together the Model Railway, new parking area, a simplified open lawn area and external display areas into a single, engaging and activated experience that will reward both the first and twenty-first visit.