Gab Tutui

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Key Facts

  • Museum and arts and cultural centre where symbolism was the prominent design driver
  • Remote location and high energy costs dictated a low energy building

Project Data

Location: Thursday Island, Torres Strait, Australia

Year completed: 2004


Gab Titui is the keeping place for Torres Strait cultural artefacts, some of which were returned from the British Museum. The tropical humid climate immediately posed a threat to the precious artefacts which had been kept in a controlled environment for many decades. Accordingly, the building had to contain a climatically stable, sealed room as well as gallery and retail spaces.


A steering committee represented the many island communities and came up with a brief.


Thursday Island is the administrative and commercial centre of the Torres Strait Islands and lies 39 kilometres north of Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. The site is in a prominent location on Thursday Island within 40m of the sea and is rated Tropical Cyclone Category 1 (TC1).


Cultural Symbolism was the most prominent driver of this project.  As a consequence, the building roof shape echoes the shape of a local head dress called a Dhari.

The building is passively designed as a liveable verandah, as open as possible with an indoor/outdoor feel.  The philosophy used in the development of the concept is based on a 90% design suitability principle, i.e. if the layout and usage works well for 90% of the time, then it becomes the dominant design principal and other considerations will be sacrificed in order for it to prevail. In excess of 90% of the time, the space is open, airy, light filled and cool.  Gabi Tuiti also includes a ‘controlled room’ for safe keeping of the artefacts that works efficiently for conditioned air.

The remote location and high energy costs added further to the attractiveness of a low energy building. Large overhangs protect the walls where required and help mitigate the effects of sun, rain and heat. The building takes full advantage of its climate and orientation assets. It faces the trade winds and is high on a ridge overlooking the Torres Strait. Breezes on Thursday Island come from all four quarters.

The simple approach to climatic design, including cross ventilation and wide overhangs, allows the building to catch breezes from all directions. Banks of louvres are located on all external walls including the West. Windward facing louvres allow breeze access through the internal spaces and verandah. Decking boards with a conventional 3mm gap further enhance the building's ability to naturally ventilate.

Large sections of external wall were clad with transparent polycarbonate cladding giving the interior a glow of flat light which further reduced the reliance on interior lighting whilst providing enough light to undertake art workshops and view the works on display.

The building faces the street and takes advantage of a fabulous view of the water and nearby islands.  Due to this orientation imperative, facing southerly trade winds was the only real option. Therefore sun angles had to be dealt with, particularly the western sun on summer afternoons. Once again timber louvres were employed to control breeze and sun and contribute to the suite of passive devices.


The project included conventional materials available in common usage in the Cairns area. However, unlike conventional block buildings, all materials had to be light-weight and transportable: timber, ply sheeting, polycarbonate sheets, corrugated colorbond, steel and some concrete. The site is a TC 1 rated to resist the highest wind speeds, so dictated the use of concrete foundations dowelled into the bedrock. The majority of structural elements are timber. The building contains very limited use of glass and aluminium. These materials generally have a low average embodied energy, which adds to its sustainability, although the aim was simply to reduce transport costs for a remote location.


For most of the year the building does not require heating or cooling and resists the alternative high energy option to create an enclosed air conditioned box.


Base building architect/ designer: Michael Ferris & Associates

Structural engineer: STP Cairns

Services engineer: Gilboy Hydraulic Solutions, Lincoln Scott

Builder: Laurie Lindner


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