Entro shows visitors the way at the Australian Museum - Spaces AU
Entro shows visitors the way at the Australian Museum

Entro shows visitors the way at the Australian Museum

The globally recognised branding and environmental design specialists at Entro Australia have created a seamless, sensitive and immersive visitor experience at Australia’s oldest museum

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team

From books to bones, and artworks to audio recordings, the collection of almost 22 million specimens and cultural objects housed at the Australian Museum offers visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the fauna, geology and cultural heritage of our region.

With a collection that size, the space in which the items are displayed is important - but so is the way we move through that space to enjoy and explore all that’s on offer.

Founded in 1827, the Australian Museum is Australia’s first museum. The museum complex, comprised of adjoining sandstone buildings in Sydney’s CBD, has undergone a series of renovations over the years - the most recent one by Cox Architecture and Neeson Murcutt + Neille between 2016 and 2020.

The Australian Museum | Photography by Brett Boardman
The Australian Museum | Photography by Brett Boardman

Part of the brief was to create a 1500sqm gallery to serve as the heart of the museum, but the other important aspect was to make moving through the museum easy and logical. Strategic wayfinding – both horizontal and vertical – was vital in order to offer the visitor an immersive and seamless experience.

Enter Entro, wayfinding and experiential design specialists whose award-winning work is designed to connect people to place. The Entro team is called on around the world to provide branding, wayfinding, design and media architecture expertise in projects ranging from airports and hospitals to museums and universities.

The Australian Museum | Photography by Brett Boardman

Not that you’re likely to notice their magic touch. Without making it obvious. Entro uses neuroscience and experiential design to guide the visitor or user through a space and to encourage them to feel a certain way while they’re there.

“We design to a particular brief for a visitor using that space and how a client wants people to feel within that space,” explains Entro principal Jan Ashdown.

The approach in a hospital, airport or shopping centre, for example, is very different to that of a museum.

“In a museum space, visitors like to meander and to discover,” Jan explains. “Our wayfinding design is intuitive, encouraging people to enter and exit various gallery spaces at their own pace.”

Our wayfinding design is intuitive, encouraging people to enter and exit various gallery spaces at their own pace

At the Australian Museum, Entro’s intention was not to rush people from point A to point B.

“Instead, we lead them through with intuitive prompts that allow patrons to choose their own path and shape their own journey through the space.”

This strategy benefits museum operators too, freeing up resources that otherwise would be tied up with directing patrons to gallery spaces and exhibitions.

The Australian Museum | Photography by Brett Boardman
The Australian Museum | Photography by Jan Ashdown

While the Entro team set out to evoke a sense of curiosity and thoughtful immersion in visitors to the Australian Museum, their strategy in other kinds of spaces is quite different. At a retail centre, for example, every element incorporated into the shopping environment - including the signage - is designed to encourage shoppers to feel excited and inspired to spend. 

In the emergency department of a hospital, by contrast, clear signage that directs a person from one point to another is the goal. Emotional distress may be high in a hospital environment and people can be in a rush, and both of these things can make it difficult for them to absorb information presented to them on signs - particularly when a sign is all in capitals.

“We actually can’t quickly decipher what words in capitals say as quickly when we’re in distress as we can when they’re in capitals and lowercase,” Jan explains, adding that the distance from which someone needs to be able to read a sign also comes into play.

The Australian Museum | Photography by Brett Boardman

Sensitive design

Signage and visitor maps were all among Entro’s remit at Australian Museum, and it was paramount that the Australian Museum’s new wayfinding acknowledge First Nations peoples.

“As we envisioned the visitor journey experience, our priorities were to complement the Museum’s heritage and contemporary architecture and to integrate First Nations principles,” Jan says.

Entro collaborated with the museum’s First Nations team to create a look and feel that reflected the land and waterways on which the Museum stands. The team drew inspiration from natural landscapes, such as mountains, trees and rivers. Scarred trees in particular - trees that provide wood or bark for the creation of cultural objects - were an influence because they’ve played a part in sharing knowledge and living in balance for millennia on the lands now known as Australia.

The Australian Museum | Photography by Brett Boardman

Made using plantation-sourced Blackbutt hardwood endemic to eastern Australia, the signs and maps Entro incorporated into Australian Museum are bespoke to accommodate their individual placements, with carefully crafted joinery, cut forms and radiuses all contributing to a cherished and living sense of place.

Pictograms and gallery markers were individually drawn, identifying key specimens of native Australian wildlife and artefacts from Indigenous Australia and the Pacific.

The Australian Museum strives to be welcoming and accessible for all visitors, and Jan says signage is an important contributor to this experience.

“Following global best practices in accessible wayfinding, many signs are tactile, include braille and were evaluated by the project’s accessibility consultant to ensure the design met Australia’s rigorous accessibility standards,” she says.

The Australian Museum | Photography by Brett Boardman

Collaborative effort

Jan and her team also worked closely with architect Rachel Neeson, director at Neeson Murcutt + Neille. “It was a joy to discover Entro’s enthusiasm for this project matched our own,” Rachel says. “Effective wayfinding really complements architecture and, with this project, Jan gives us a masterclass in realising the positive impact of that marriage of disciplines.”

Entro’s world-class work at the museum has been recognised with gold awards in the Sydney Design Awards and 4th Grand Prix du Design, along with a World Design Award and Good Design Award.

Australian Museum director and CEO Kim McKay AO says Entro has made a lasting contribution to the museum.

“The Australian Museum’s elegant new wayfinding not only helps visitors navigate the Museum’s old and new spaces, but it also incorporates native Australian materials that complement the Museum’s heritage architectural features.”

Discover more of Entro's work on ArchiPro and get in touch.

Words by Joanna Tovia

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