Finalist 2021

Penguin Parade Visitor Centre

Phillip Island Nature Parks / Thylacine Design / Gemma Field / Mental Media / Benjamin Cisterne / Marc Martin

Penguin Parade Visitor Centre fosters a strong feeling of connection between visitors and the unique environment of the Summerland Peninsula.

The Penguin Parade Visitor Centre is a tourism icon and the most visited tourist destination in Victoria.
Promoting connections between visitors and the unique environment of Summerland Peninsula, Thylacine’s interpretive design for the new Centre engages the hearts and minds of diverse visitors, bonding them to Australia’s largest colony of Little Penguins and the important conservation work being undertaken in their unique habitat.

Inhabiting the striking angular architecture of the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre, our exhibition design connects visitors to the Summerland Peninsula’s unique environment and the enduring custodianship of the Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation.

Design Brief

The design brief included facilitating large groups of visitors at this sensitive ecological site and introducing the area as one with high conservation values and holding the continuous connection to culture of the Bunurong people.

The brief required the narrative spaces to privilege non-language-based interpretation, so that the conservation messages could be enjoyed by the large numbers of international visitors the Centre expects. As such, the design favours physical interaction, play, atmospheric sound and light, and a strong illustrative visual language to engage and delight visitors.

With the benefit of a great story to tell and important accessible conservation messaging, our interpretive design at the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre achieves what it set out to: that is, delight, surprise and engage visitors in the rich conservation history of this place and connect them to their own part in conserving its natural and cultural value into the future.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The design for the interpretive exhibition was developed in close consultation with the Phillip Island Nature Parks (PINP) interpretation team and architect Terroir. Starting with an interpretive framework, a series of concept design opportunities were developed around the target audiences of children and families. Rather than looking at the interpretation as a contained exhibition, we worked with the architects to integrate the interpretive exhibition elements throughout the Visitor Centre as a connected visitor experience and part of the building architecture. In this way the entire building and the visitor’s journey and engagement communicates the story of the penguins and their natural environment prior to visitors encountering Penguins in their natural habitat, on their famous parade from shore to burrow.

Working though the design process from concept to design development, documentation and then commissioning, we worked in tandem with the architectural design process to integrate the design with the building works. Throughout the design process we consulted closely with the client and key stakeholder’s including Traditional Owners to refine the design, stories and engagement to connect audiences to the rich stories of Phillip Island’s Little Penguins and their unique habitat.

The client is delighted with the exceptional design standard which the project has reached and since opening it has also been a favourite with the general public receiving a Trip Advisor 2021 Travellers’ Choice award, which places it in the top 10% of destinations that consistently earn excellent reviews from visitors.

Damian Prendergast, Phillip Island Nature Parks Major Projects Manager has said “The new Centre puts first the more than 32,000 Little Penguins who call the peninsula their home, while also delivering an exceptional visitor experience.” The balance between managing large numbers of visitors and the habitat of the penguins was carefully managed with considered design and messaging to visitors.

Design Excellence

Exemplary design engages the senses and imagination of the people who use it. Good design can be an agent of social change and create opportunities for important stories to be told.

It was important to us to highlight the rich heritage of custodianship by the Bunurong people, who have cared for this site over thousands of years. As visitors approach the Centre, a Welcome to Country installation invites them to recognise this connection, incorporating words of welcome in the Bunurong language and asking visitors to take care of this place. Bunurong material culture is also integrated as an interior display area that tightly maps to the angular architectureof the building. Our design facilitates connection, knowledge, and acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the area as an invitation to walk with care on Country.

Our design integrates story into the fabric of the architecture throughout the primary visitor pathway, while our wayfinding design guides visitors as they approach the building, and enter the Centre enhancing intuitive navigation of the landscape and building.

We worked to deliver the best possible integrated design for visitor experience and engagement across diverse design disciplines of interpretive, graphic, media, lighting, exterior signage and wayfinding design. Our designs for interaction and information inhabit the striking architecture of this award-winning new Centre and the surrounding landscape and setting a bench mark for design excellence in Victoria.

The building has strong sustainability goals, being designed, and constructed to have a very small carbon footprint. We continued this approach with simple and modular techniques used in joinery construction and sustainable and renewable materials selected including aluminum and zero formaldehyde ply with direct graphic prints. In addition, a customised ‘where my money goes’ screen shows each ticket-holder the positive impact their presence is having on conservation on the Summerland Peninsula.

Design Innovation

The interpretive design has the end user as its primary focus, engaging the hearts and minds of diverse visitors as they enter and move through the Centre.

Installations at dispersed locations along the main visitor path tell specific conservation stories, while the immersive interpretation in ‘Habitat’ emotionally connects visitors, both young and young- at-heart, to the important conservation work of PINP. Physical and digital interaction encourage visitors to appreciate the influence their own behaviours have on conservation here and at home.

The ‘Habitat’ is articulated by exaggerated translucent tussock formations, shrinking visitors to the size of a Little Penguin and guiding them through the space. Playful digital projections invite groups of visitors to become Little Penguins: fishing in the ocean, sheltering from predators in their burrow, and making the long ‘parade’ across the beach from shore to burrow.

An inclusive visitor experience has been prioritised in our design. Our interpretive design privileges non-language-based interpretation wherever possible. We have incorporated moving image, gameplay, atmospheric sound and light, a digitally augmented 3-dimensional concrete map of the Summerland Peninsula, theatrics and physical interaction, a strong graphic style including striking bespoke illustration, symbol-based user interfaces, and the element of surprise!

Utilising this wide-ranging toolkit ensures the interpretive interior design can be enjoyed by a full range of diverse visitors, from the very young to the older visitor, as well as international visitors whose preferred language is not English.

Alongside the new Visitor Centre, distinctive functional wayfinding was required to guide visitors to and from the Centre. The sculptural, folded forms address the needs of multi-directional wayfinding as well as sitting at different heights for visibility across the undulating landscape. The design of the external sign-forms meet extreme environmental conditions as well as responding to the geometry of the building.

Design Impact

At the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre Thylacine have designed a range of encounters highlighting the important conservation work of PINP and supporting the agency of visitors to continue conservation action at home.

The Visitor Centre was funded by the State Government and PINP to better protect the penguins and their environment. The Penguin Parade sits inside the Phillip Island Important Bird Area, which supports up to 32,000 Little Penguins. The 'parade' refers specifically to the penguins’ daily commute from the sea, up the beach to their burrows. More than 4,000 penguins are thought to burrow on Summerland Bay Beach.
The area is Australia’s largest colony of Little Penguins and the new development has allowed the rehabilitation of more than six hectares of penguin habitat on the site of the old visitor centre and coach parking areas, creating homes for an additional 1,400 breeding penguins.

The Penguin Parade is a popular and very well attended ecotourism experience and one of Victoria’s top 10 tourist attractions which welcomes over 700,000 visitors every year. Visitation to the non-profit centre is invested into conservation, research, ecotourism, environmental and educational initiatives on Phillip Island.

The PINP is part of the UNESCO Western Port Biosphere Reserve and encompass wildlife sanctuaries, wetlands, woodlands and coastlines. The Park supports significant populations of little penguins, hooded plovers, short-tailed shearwaters and other international migratory bird species, and mammals such as koalas, possums, wallabies, Australian fur seals and bats and a range of plant communities that includes over 330 native species.

Thylacine are proud of our work as designers in developing a world class interpretive visitor experience that assists the PINP in its important and leading work as an Ecotourism operator in Victoria. Our success is measured in the memories of rich, authentic experiences that visitors take with them.

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