The Galleries of Remembrance

12 November 2014

Dedicated to the Australians who served in the First World War, the foundation stone for the Shrine was laid on Remembrance Day 1927 followed by the official opening on Remembrance Day 1934. Yesterday, 80 years to the day since the official dedication, saw the opening of the new Shrine Galleries of Remembrance. Featuring an original lifeboat from the SS Devanha that doubled as a landing craft at Gallipoli in 1915, the new Galleries provide a substantial increase in the exhibition and teaching facilities for the Shrine. The two new courtyards, comprising a dedicated schools entry and a garden courtyard, also complete the intent of the original 1923 design.

The driving force behind the commissioning of the Shrine was General Sir John Monash, who applied his professional experience as a civil engineer to take a detailed personal involvement in the construction of the building. Sadly, he died in 1931 without seeing the Shrine completed. Irwinconsult are humbled to follow in his footsteps in engineering the creation of the new Galleries in the undercroft and surrounding mound.

Construction of the Shrine on an artificial hill to the East of St Kilda Road required the construction of a substantial undercroft and surrounding mound. This undercroft, while lacking a floor and partly filled with construction waste, was identified as the location for the new facilities required for the new visitor centre (completed in 2003) and later Shrine Galleries. In addition, the mound to the South was excavated and a new structure constructed and reburied to restore the appearance of the original Southern approach.

The adaptation of the existing undercroft required substantial new structural engineering works to create useable gallery spaces. These works included:

  • Lowering of the existing ground level within the undercroft.
  • Underpinning of existing footings to brick piers and retaining walls to create new lift pits and increase headroom in some areas.
  • Re-support of structures over to allow removal of select existing brick piers to open up links and a space for the lifeboat.

Shrine-Southern Extension

 At all times in working with the existing structures, our structural engineers followed a philosophy of following precedent in preference to code. Many of the existing stuctures could not be proven to comply with current design codes. However, rather then using this as a reason to recommend unneccessary strengthening or overly conservative modifications, we took the approach of studying the performance of the existing structures as a precedent for their ongoing performance. For example, an existing retaining wall that has stood without distress for 80 years clearly can be taken to have established its capacity through precedent. The key was to carefully inspect the existing elements to search for any evidence of distress indicating a potential for failure. Also to ensure that the loading and support conditions are unchanged before and after the works.

The undercroft received a new polished concrete floor slab throughout, along with a new lift shaft and stairs. The Devanha lifeboat is set into a backlit glass floor with steel framing. Installation of the lifeboat into the Eastern undercroft required design of a complex system of overhead steel beams to support the boat on its journey through the building.

The new works include a substantial new cut-and-cover basement below the South mound, and a new service access tunnel to link to Observatory Road to the East. One of the most complex aspects of the structural design is the precast retaining walls to the new courtyards. These follow a serrated plan form with each precast panel bracing the next panel through the change in angle.

We are proud to have been entrusted with this commission.

The Poppy

The works to the new Student Entry Courtyard included the design, fabrication and installation of the giant steel poppy sun shade. Playfully echoing the shape of the remembrance flower, the shade provides students entering the courtyard with an engaging introduction to the shrine, contributing to the evocative and contemplative mood of the space.

The 12m diameter shade consists of a network of small diameter tubular steel members, curved to follow the 3 dimensional shape of the flower, with a criss-crossing array of perforated aluminium sheets to provide shade. The steel frame is suspended from steel cables anchored into the courtyard precast walls. The challenging 3-dimensional form of both the poppy and surrounding zig-zagging walls and the design brief for the thinnest and lightest possible frame called for innovative structural engineering.

A conventional engineering response to the architectural proposition would have been a succession of analyses, each based on the latest iteration on the architectural form and providing feedback on member sizes, deflections etc. to inform the architects’ next iteration. The smart structural engineering approach here was to set up a parametric design model with architects ARM to allow the engineering to interactively inform the geometry. A shared 3D Rhino model was created, where key design parameters such as grid spacing could be varied using the parametric tool Grasshopper, with an interactive link to the structural engineering analysis programme. This enabled real-time visual, structural and economic assessment of different configurations of curvature, density of grid, location of support points etc. and allowed the team to converge rapidly to a solution. The result is a lightweight structure (14kg steel per sqm) with thin structural lines (42mm diameter inner members and 60mm diameter perimeter members) contributing to the poppy’s overall dynamic appearance.


The steelwork fabricator, HDM metal, played a key role in turning the digital sculptural form into reality. The poppy’s central part and 5 petals were prefabricated separately, preassembled in the Canberra workshop to test the fit of the welded-up geometry and bolted seams and splices, transported separately and reassembled on the ground outside the Student Entry Courtyard.

The whole poppy was then crane lifted into position and attached to the supporting cables. The poppy was already fulfilling its role as an engaging educational object, as visiting groups of school children intently watched the lifting and installation proceedings.