TarraWarra Museum of Art

Words by Melissa Hasic
Photography by Peter Bennetts & John Gollings

The TarraWarra Museum of Art was the initiative of Eva Besen and Marc Besen who began collecting Australian art in the 1950s. Their vision to share their collection came to life in 2000 when five of Melbourne’s architects were invited to present concepts for the new museum. The design by Allan Powell from Powell & Glenn won and the TarraWarra Museum of Art was opened in 2003. The gallery still functions under its original charter to display Australian art from the second half of the twentieth century. It became Australia’s first philanthropically funded museum.

Positioned atop a crest of a rise; the property overlooks the TarraWarra vineyards, a dam and the Yarra Ranges. Allan Powell’s use of clean lines and minimal materials, predominantly rammed earth, against the organic, soft surrounding landscape achieves pure aesthetic composition.

Shadow Detail - Peter Bennetts

The curves of the exterior walls echo the contours and hues of the surrounding hills and leaves visitors in an elusive, surreal state which lacks context – the perfect mindset primer for a visit to the gallery. Powell’s ability to use sunlight and shadow artistically is particularly obvious at TWMA. Given the geographical positioning, TarraWarra is a transitional space and one that can act as an exhibition of its own. The shadows that are cast are constantly shifting and adapting, creating an appropriate environment for different moods. The structures and pillars work in symbiosis with one another and in relation to the space between them – the TWMA is the perfect example of spatial sensibility.

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The latest addition to the estate is the Cellar Door, which was built into the hillside. Designed by Kerstin Thompson Architects – it continues to play with the themes of light and shadow as well as clean and curved lines. A circular stone entry welcomes you to the stronger angles inside the subterranean building. Pockets of light, both artificial and natural, act as curiosities in the tasting room and direct the eye to the architectural features and focus on materials. TarraWarra Cellar Door has been highly commended in multiple design awards and is an incredible complement to the TarraWarra Museum of Art.

It is clear that the vision of the Besen’s aligned so well with Allan Powell’s design and together they were able to give life to a new way of experiencing art so close to the city. The museum is now internationally recognised for its collection and credit must be paid to the Besen’s who gifted the museum and much of their artwork collection to the public. The TarraWarra Estate as a whole unifies the many components it houses; the vineyard, Cellar Door, restaurant and museum, as well as the people who visit the estate year-round. The clarity and charm of the design was honoured in 2004 when Allan Powell was awarded with the Victorian Premiers Design Award. TarraWarra Museum of Art pays homage to the environment it finds itself in and is both receptive and responsive to those who visit – leaving them immersed in a truly holistic experience.

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TarraWarra Estate
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road,
Healesville, Victoria, Australia
(03) 5957 3100

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Powell & Glenn

Peter Bennetts Photography

John Gollings Photography

Sketch - Australian Architecture

Allan Powell’s use of clean lines and minimal materials, predominantly rammed earth, against the organic, soft surrounding landscape achieves pure aesthetic composition.