Architecture and art

With impressive award-winning, world-class architecture and a display of remarkable works of art throughout the site, the National Arboretum Canberra is a favourite amongst those who appreciate design and creative brilliance.


The Arboretum plan is based on the winning design of '100 Forests and 100 Gardens' by Taylor Cullity Lethlean Landscape Architects and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects. The layout buildings and gardens have been designed to create an immersive fusion of the natural environment and striking architectural spaces.

Village Centre

“The heart of the building is its main light-filled space, which accommodates a range of functions, exhibits and activities. It focuses on the dramatic views southeast to Lake Burley Griffin and the city of Canberra, and opens to the north and south to the sweep of the Event Terrace.”    Peter Tonkin, Architect of the Village Centre

The Village Centre nestles into the landscape just below the ridgeline to complement the surrounding topography. The building creates a strong sense of indoor-outdoor connection, contrasting a high arching roof and huge windows with low stone-clad walls.

With an entrance through a stone-walled cutting, the Village Centre opens into a vaulted, light-filled space with panoramic views over Canberra, Lake Burley Griffin and beyond.

Internally, the unique timber structure combines a low environmental impact with forms inspired by the leaves and trees in the surrounding forests. The timber frame uses laminated Tasmanian oak from sustainably managed plantations and contains over 3,000 unique structures, cut to shape from computer models.

All ten oversized curved beams in the ceiling are of different lengths, with 73 solid timber struts forming the key structural elements of the dome. The longest beam is 56 metres long and 12 metres high.

The building won the Institute of Architects Award for ‘Best Public Building in the ACT’ in 2013.

Designed by Peter Tonkin of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects
The Village Centre was built by Project Coordination.

Materials and systems

Mortared and gabion stone walls: Built by Stonemad stone masons using stone from nearby Wee Jasper, the stone is rapidly-cooled, olivine basalt from shallow lava flows about 25 million years ago.

Roof: More than 2,000 square metres of pure zinc sheeting, using traditional hand-formed standing seam joints provide a durable roof, interlinked with double glazed roof panels.

Roof and window glass: Double glazed sealed units with high performance solar glass and a low emissivity coating provide good natural light but reflect summer heat on the outside while retaining winter warmth on the inside of the building.

Ceiling sound insulation: Special acoustic fabric finished panels.

Floor: Honed and sealed concrete.

Cooling and air conditioning system: Extensive natural ventilation complemented by under floor hydronic heating and low-energy air conditioning.

Margaret Whitlam Pavilion

The iconic Margaret Whitlam Pavilion provides sweeping views of the lake, city and surrounding mountains. The structure is an innovative pre-fabricated arrangement of steel beams and insulating composite panels, clad externally in zinc, matching the ribbed roof of the Village Centre to the north. The limed plywood lining and the use of hardwood elements highlights the value of trees as sources of material.

The space has been extensively modelled for acoustics, suiting both amplified and natural voices and music.

Designed by architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer
Built by Manteena Pty Ltd.

Materials and systems

Steel Structure: Steel portal frames with composite panels.

Roof: Pure zinc sheet, hand formed standing seam joints.

Ceiling: Perforated acoustic-lined plywood, hoop pine veneer with limewash.

Windows and door glazing: Double glazed sealed units with high performance solar glass and a low emissivity coating.

Floor: Honed and sealed in-situ concrete.

Pod Playground

Pod Playground uses the idea of seeds as the beginning of life in the forest. The design includes giant acorns floating in the sky and enormous banksia cones nestled on the ground. A large net fort, nest swings, music-making instruments and a musical bridge offer creative learning experiences.

The playground is designed to create wonder, imagination and enchantment, and to encourage activity and spontaneity in play.

Pod Playground won the Victoria Design Award at the 2013 Australian Institute of Landscape Architects Awards, and at the 2013 Melbourne Design Awards

2013       Pod Playground/ T.C.L         Winner  Melbourne Design Awards

Designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean Landscape Architects.


Artwork and bespoke designs are integral features of the National Arboretum Canberra’s masterplan for the enjoyment of all visitors. Artwork is featured throughout the buildings, forests and gardens with many pieces providing additional interpretative information for visitors. Ranging from whimsical to functional, each piece of artwork tells a story and connects to the National Arboretum.

Village Centre Precinct Art Walk

Take a stroll through the Village Centre precinct and explore the embedded artworks throughout. These artworks are accessible and on level ground for the enjoyment of all visitors.

Etched glass panels in the cutting

Lining the stone gabion wall entrance to the Village Centre are a set of striking etched glass panels. These etchings tell the story of plant evolution and the formation of coal seams. They include information about species planted at the Arboretum, and fossil imagery including a reference to a 100-million year-old bee fossil.

Spectacular lighting at night makes the display come to life.

Designed by David Lancashire Designs

Tree Ring

Under the soaring beams of the Village Centre lies the magnificent Tree Ring. Made from Australian timbers, the Tree Ring is inlaid into the floor and crafted by highly-skilled wood artists. All the timbers used in this work are native hardwoods, except Cypress pine (Callitris species), which is a native softwood.

The Tree Ring represents the trunk diameters of every tree species planted at the Arboretum. This provides visitors with a true sense of scale of each tree species once fully grown.

The giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) with a mature trunk width of six metres forms the outer ring of the design with smaller tree cross-sections nested within it.

As many forests in the Arboretum are endangered species, their timbers have been represented in the Tree Ring by reclaimed Australian hardwoods.

Designed by Thylacine
Crafted by Mick Raynes.
The inner ring section, approximately 1.6 m in diameter, was crafted by members of the Albury-Wodonga Woodcrafters.

Pod Playground Gate

Located at the entrance of the Pod Playground, the striking steel gate shows interpretations of many different types of Australian animals and plants, including wombats, emus, kangaroos, kookaburras, echidnas, lady beetles, platypi, bilbies, possums and the extinct Tasmanian tiger (Thylacine).

Designed by Simone Bliss from TCL Landscape Architects, who designed the playground.
Manufactured by HDM Metal Pty Ltd.

Steel umbrellas

Located within the beautiful Canberra Discovery Garden, these large 3m diameter steel umbrellas were water jet-cut with images that reflect the variety of forms, shapes, colours, smells and textures showcased in this educational garden.

As the sun moves through the sky, so do the shadows cast from the water-cut umbrellas, adding a layered experience for visitors as they walk through, enjoy and learn from the garden.

Designed by David Lancashire Designs

Living artworks

Visitors are encouraged to visit the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia to see ‘living artworks’ created by some of Australia’s best bonsai artists.

Around Dairy Farmers Hill

Drive to Dairy Farmers Hill or take a leisurely walk through four forests to the lookout, and discover some of the Arboretum’s most impressive works of art set against magnificent panoramic views.

Hand rail on Dairy Farmers Hill

The curved stainless steel handrail at the Dairy Farmers Hill lookout illustrates the 100 leaves representing the 100 forests at the Arboretum (94 forests have been planted to date). Each of the leaves were hand-drawn and etched into the stainless steel handrail.

The detail and definition of the leaves, together with the play of light across their surface creates shimmering images enhanced by the changing seasons.

Designed by David Lancashire Designs

Inspired by the brief to "create a memorable jewellery-like piece which encapsulates the National Arboretum Canberra project."

Armillary Sphere Sundial

The Armillary Sphere Sundial is a functioning sundial made from patinated brass and stainless steel. The sundial sits proudly atop Dairy Farmers Hill next to the iconic “Nest III” sculpture.

Made by Hendrik Forster, the sundial is made from patinated brass and stainless steel.