A Magnificent Building

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In the beautiful outback landscape of Lightning Ridge, New South Wales ground has been broken in preparation for the construction of a new Australian Opal Centre building.

This amazing national museum designed by acclaimed architects Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin will be an energy-efficient, two storey underground building, filled with glittering treasures and stories of the people who found them.

Visitors will approach the new Australian Opal Centre across the historic Three Mile opal field, where Bimble Box and Wild Orange trees, ancient machines and mounds of pink and cream opal dirt create a sparsely beautiful outback landscape that echoes with a century of opal mining history.

There, they will discover a remarkable building recessed into, and protected by, the earth.

The complex will contain magnificent permanent exhibitions, education and learning facilities, a cinema, gallery spaces, a spectacular opal vault, research library, scientific laboratory and underground gardens.

100 metres long and two storeys deep, the Australian Opal Centre building will use a combination of ancient and cutting-edge modern technologies to provide its own energy, water, light and fresh air - without being connected to mains power or water.

The large roof will collect rainwater and solar energy. Water will be stored underground and recycled for use on the Gondwanan garden. Gradients of air temperature and pressure will drive passive ventilation systems, not unlike those used by opal miners to keep fresh air flowing through their mines.

After entering the building, visitors will walk towards daylight pouring in at the end of a long, gently descending ramp. There, they will find that they are suspended in the side of an open-cut mine, with the geological strata of opal-bearing country exposed before them.

Then around the corner and down again, to exhibitions of opal, fossils, mining machinery and the faces and legends of the opal fields. And a cool underground Gondwanan garden containing trees - Wollemi pines! - ferns, cycads and other descendants of the plants that lived 110 million years ago, when dinosaurs walked the place we now know as Lightning Ridge.

This is the vision for the Australian Opal Centre's magnificent new building. Innovations in design, materials and processes will generate new paradigms for the future of public architecture in semi-arid Australia.

The building design will conserve water and energy, minimise running costs and attract millions of visitors from around Australia and the world for generations to come.


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