The home of architecture and design in Asia-Pacific

Get the latest design news direct to your inbox!

narrm ngarrgu, a place of learning and celebration by Six Degrees Architects

A new community hub has opened in Melbourne – narrm ngarrgu celebrates and showcases the voice and presence of Kulin people.

narrm ngarrgu, a place of learning and celebration by Six Degrees Architects

With the opening of a new community hub – narrm ngarrgu Library and Family Services – in Melbourne’s historic Queen Victoria Market precinct, there is the opportunity to share the wisdom and voice of the Kulin people. It offers a suite of services that include family health and wellbeing services and a collection of more than 30,000 new books.

narrm ngarrgu Library and Family Services is the first library to open in the City of Melbourne in almost a decade and is now open to the public. The name, narrm ngarrgu, is a Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung word meaning ‘Melbourne Knowledge’.

Designed by Six Degrees Architects with landscaping by Bush Projects and Sarah Hicks, the new premises are large, with three levels and a total floorspace of 3000 square metres. The many facilities include a dedicated children’s library, quiet study and computer areas, reading rooms, sound studios for podcasting and recording, and bookable meeting rooms and event spaces. A feature of the new design is a large 960-square-metre outdoor terrace that features native plantings, outdoor play area, an interactive eel-trap tunnel and additional recreational areas.

“The architecture is deliberately restrained with a warm, natural material palette and light-filled open spaces providing a perfect canvas for the artworks and vibrant carpet designs,” says Peter Malatt, director at Six Degrees Architects. “Bold floor-to-ceiling curtains offer a simple and elegant solution to flexibly transform spaces, adding a rich texture to the interior design.”

The third level of the building hosts the family services centre that incorporates a holistic range of services that cater to maternal and child health, parenting with a parent room (for breastfeeding or feeding babies), playgroup area and outdoor play space, immunisations and family support and counselling.

Wrapping the exterior of the Munro building which houses narrm ngarrgu is artist Rose Nolan’s large-scale artwork Screen Works (ENOUGH-NOW/EVEN/MORE-SO) – a complex and bold design presented as a series of connected words that reference the market’s role in social and economic exchange and conjure a sense of perseverance and forward-thinking.

Related: 9 projects celebrating First Nations design

Malatt explains: “Early on in the design process, we collaborated with visual artist Rose Nolan who produced the striking red and white Screen Works (ENOUGH-NOW/EVEN/MORE-SO) that define the façade design of the building. Beyond providing bold, visual impact and food for thought, they serve as a way-finder to help people navigate the precinct.”              

At the heart of the art program is a series of culturally significant immersive works by Aboriginal artist Maree Clarke, a Mutti Mutti, Yorta Yorta, Boon Wurrung and Wemba Wemba woman, which tell a First Nations story of the history of the site. Created in collaboration with artist Hillary Jackman and designers and artisans from Artery Cooperative, the works take visitors on a journey into Kulin culture throughout the building, providing opportunities for reflection, learning, ceremony and play.

On arrival visitors are welcomed to the space through a series of coloured lenticular prints by Clarke that represent the Kulin seasons, before arriving ‘on Country’, a gesture of inclusion, in the main library, with carpet design themed around ‘Walking on Country’ and featuring contour maps of the five Kulin nations.

The Children’s Library and passageway features carpet designed with native Wurrundjeri plants and animals and colour coded artwork motifs signify the Kulin seasons, and native landscape.

On the rooftop terrace, Clarke’s works include a coolamon cast from a giant burl for smoking ceremonies, made in collaboration with Palawa man Nicholas Hovington, and a six-metre-long eel trap playground artwork with soft fall featuring patterns that complement the Indigenous plantings.

Clarke says, “I wanted to create and integrate pieces that reflect the Kulin Nation culture and knowledge that have always been here, giving anyone who walks into the building a chance to connect in a playful and thoughtful way.” She continues, “If people don’t know about the five clans of the Kulin Nations, what better place to start learning than in narrm ngarrgu.”

Curated by dr megan evans, with support from Clarke her long-time collaborator, the collection includes three new commissioned works by Wergaia/Wemba Wemba artist Kelly Koumalatsos and Ngarigu artist Peter Waples-Crowe, alongside existing works from the Council’s Art and Heritage Collection.

The collection also features works by influential Aboriginal artists Josh Muir, Kelly Koumalatsos, Leah King-Smith, Stephen Rhall, Hayley Millar Baker, Clinton Naina, Brian Martin, Naomi Hobson, Kent Morris, Blackgin (Georgia Macguire), Julie Gough, Lisa Waup and Sonja Hodge, as well as photography by Clarke of the 1990s NAIDOC protests in Melbourne.

The Council collaborated with Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung elders, artists and community members to reflect their knowledge and lore in the curation of the narrm ngarrgu art program as did the architects.

Describing the design process, project lead at Six Degrees Architects, Mastura Mokhatar, says, “The Wurundjeri collaboration set the benchmark for the project’s interiors and landscape design and provided Six Degrees with invaluable insights that have enriched the project’s scope and materiality. It has resulted in a celebration of culture, a tribute to Country, and an immersive journey, with a spirit of unity, learning, and respect for all ages and cultures.” 

narrm ngarrgu Library and Family Services is an oasis in a busy city and a place in which to reflect, learn and simply breathe. Offering facilities that will benefit the community is always a welcome addition, however, to provide the chance to learn of the incredible Kulin nation is certainly a gift to treasure.

Six Degrees Architects

Courtesy of City of Melbourne

We think you might also like this comment piece by Kaunitz Yeung Architecture that came ahead of the 2023 Voice Referendum.

INDESIGN is on instagram

Follow @indesignlive

The Indesign Collection

A searchable and comprehensive guide for specifying leading products and their suppliers

Indesign Our Partners

Keep up to date with the latest and greatest from our industry BFF's!

Related Stories

While you were sleeping

The internet never sleeps! Here's the stuff you might have missed