Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum is an iconic facility sited in an old power station. Since opening in 1988, the museum’s original wayfinding system had been added to many times, becoming fragmented and no longer meeting functional requirements or communicating the appropriate image for a contemporary, dynamic museum.
Frost Design was invited to design a new internal wayfinding system, integrating identification and directional signage to facilities, temporary exhibits, and the museum’s permanent collection.
The team created a family of bold, dynamic signs, distinct from the exhibition signage system, that references the building’s industrial history and captures the essence of a modern design museum.
The team’s research showed that one of the major issues with the existing system was that it did not answer basic visitor questions (What’s here? What’s of interest to me? Where do I go?). To address these questions, the team designed a major building directory in the entry foyer, listing all exhibitions and facilities. They also created “must-sees” for people with limited time to visit.
The five-story building has various entry points for different visitor groups, making navigation a major issue. By masterplanning typical visitor journeys, the team was able to identify and position new signage in appropriate locations for specific audiences. They renamed the main entry level “Ground” and established a bright, distinctive color for each level. To work with the detailed interior color scheme, signs were designed with large white fields as a canvas to hold wayfinding information. Simple white monolithic blocks were color-coded to the floor level. As a locating principle, wherever possible, signage was applied to the building fabric rather than cluttering up circulation routes. The clarity and visibility of the signs help orient visitors in the vast and complex building.
Designers leveraged the building’s heritage by using the original names of the distinct building volumes (Turbine House, Engine House, Boiler House, etc.) in wayfinding. Graphic applications are distinct chevron bands and large-scale stenciled floor numbers, also referencing the industrial machinery of the site’s past.
Graphics were designed to be big, bold, and visually appealing to all audiences. Spaces were activated through the playful use of large-scale, colored words and numbers applied directly to walls, ceilings, and the undersides of stairways.
“A perfect example of graphics activating the environment. Stencil type works perfectly and coloring provides stimuli and identity strength. Good information speed.” “Powerful signage for a powerful space. Great use of pylons and bold typography to define the program. Nice, clear solution using oversized type and color to define various levels.”
Vince Frost (principal in charge), Carlo Giannasca, Joanna Mackenzie, Siobhain Murphy, Quan Payne
Consolidated Graphics (sign fabrication and installation), 3M (vinyl), Dulux (paint)