Puffing Billy, Australia’s favorite steam train, takes visitors into a bygone era of wonderment. It is situated in the Dandenong Ranges, one hour east of Melbourne. The Puffing Billy Railway offers fun adventures, nostalgic touches, and cultural experiences for all visitors.

It was established in 1900 to serve the nearby neighborhoods that lived in the hills. The railway now serves as a major tourist destination that welcomes tourists to visit and enjoy a century-old tradition almost every day of the year.

Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Center by Stantec - Sheet1
Aerial View of the Lakeside Visitor Center_©Peter Bennetts

The Lakeside Visitor Center offers visitors a cultural hub with top-notch amenities. It is snuggled away among the soaring rainforests, pretty fern crevasses, and native flowers of Emerald Lake Park. A fine quote to describe the selection of the site location for the visitors’ center is “Location has energy and time has memory.”

Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Center by Stantec - Sheet2
The Visitor Center blending into its surrounding landscape_©https://terroir.com.au/project/puffing-billy-railway-visitor-centre/

Being a historically significant site, the lakeside station attracts distinct visitors like train enthusiasts, regular park goers, etc. The construction of this project has benefitted many visitors and elicited lots of tourists and the local population to stop over and spend some quality time with their friends, family, and the soothing environment.

Design and Planning

It was designed by fusing its surrounding landscape with the genuine human senses of sight, smell, and sound of the location, thereby simulating minds and transforming the visit into a memorable experience.

Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Center by Stantec - Sheet3
Area Program_©https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngAA1vV2-Ls

To build on the elements that have made the Puffing Billy Railway so popular by adding new elements and experiences that do not compete with or overshadow its existing features is the goal of this project.

Numerous possibilities are included in the rational sequence of spaces, including the ability to zone use regions differently. The function or program is organized in a straightforward, clear, and linear manner.

The structure has been designed and constructed in a linear form alongside the existing lakeside railway track and platform keeping in mind the existing human movement in those spaces, which is deemed to have been further enhanced in the area program of the structure. 


Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Center by Stantec - Sheet4
Facilities Map_©https://puffingbilly.com.au/lakeside-visitor-centre/

The visitors center offers a variety of programmes for various age groups alike. The facilities provided by the center are also equally accessible to a varied population as the center has a universal design approach. The center is an ideal hangout space for discovery outdoors and relaxation indoors with fun activities. 

The daily Puffing Billy tourist and park users are just two of the various visitor categories catered for. The complex building accommodates a café, commercial kitchen, visitor information services, interpretation displays, function rooms, staff offices, retail, educational facilities, and amenities. What begins as a railway platform unlocks numerous experiences that are unlike regular railway station platforms.

Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Center by Stantec - Sheet5
Lakeside Visitor Center Site Context_©https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngAA1vV2-Ls
Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Center by Stantec - Sheet6
The Great Hall_©https://terroir.com.au/project/puffing-billy-railway-visitor-centre/

Materials used and their Significance

Having uninterrupted expansive views, the visitors’ center soaks in warm sunlight. The visitors’ center is externally covered in bushfire-protective lustrous black metal cladding. The framework of the visitor center is completely constructed using shiny black steel members. It has Tasmanian oak-finished interiors and steel-structured vistas flowing as pleat-like rhythmed openings. Harmonic usage of steel elements and timber is observed.  The black color used is symbolic of the Puffing Billy Steam locomotives. 

Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Center by Stantec - Sheet7
External Shiny Black Metal Cladding_©Peter Bennetts
Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Center by Stantec - Sheet8
Existing Lakeside Station and the New Visitor Center Walkway_©https://vimeo.com/524039552

A lengthy internal circulation space with endless trackside vistas inspired by the long, twisting trestle bridges that are crucial to the Puffing Billy experience runs parallel to the “carriage-like” functions. The patterns made, simulate spatial recognition and psychological sensitivities among the users in a positive manner. The journey through the visitors’ center has an unreal sequence of events to be experienced. It begins with a beautiful expanse of the landscape and is gradually narrowed down to just learning about Puffing Billy and enjoying oneself in the process.

Spatial Geometry and Experience

Lakeside Visitor Center Massing Model_©https://terroir.com.au/project/puffing-billy-railway-visitor-centre/

The spatial geometry of the center is as unique as the exterior form when paralleled with other commonly found structures at or near railway stations. The structure has principally used a combination of different trapezoidal volumes adhering to the surrounding settings of the native bushland and an overlooking European park landscape to evolve a functional and aesthetically pleasing form. A series of open, semi-open, and closed spaces are arranged in a manner such that the structure is able to breathe in natural daylight and receive sufficient ventilation throughout. As the focus of this project, a continuous visual connection with the Puffing Billy railway track and Emerald lake is maintained.

The external metallic black cladding and steel structures complement the interior oak and timber wood finishes in harmony. In unity, they define the skeleton of the design while managing to remain in balance. Although the structure of the visitors’ center might impart a sturdy appearance due to its form and materials used, it seems to rather easily blend with its context while resonating a positive ambiance. 

What one feels in a space is important. The physical form, engineered structure, designed spaces, and enveloping environment of the visitors’ center offer every person soulful experiences that may be beyond description.

References :


1) Archello. (n.d.). Puffing Billy Railway Visitor Centre | Terroir. [online] Available at: https://archello.com/project/puffing-billy-railway-visitor-centre

2) ArchDaily. (2022). Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Centre / TERROIR. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/977057/puffing-billy-lakeside-visitor-centre-terroir?ad_source=unverified&ad_name=project

3) Constructions, K. (). Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Centre. [online] Kane Constructions. Available at: https://www.kane.com.au/project/puffing-billy-railway-lakeside-discovery-centre

4) News, G.D. (2022). A $20 million visitor centre designed by Terroir for Victoria’s heritage Puffing Billy Railway has been completed. [online] Global Design News. Available at: https://globaldesignnews.com/a-20-million-visitor-centre-designed-by-terroir-for-victorias-heritage-puffing-billy-railway-has-been-completed/

5) puffingbilly.com.au. (2021). Lakeside Visitor Centre – Puffing Billy. [online] Available at: https://puffingbilly.com.au/lakeside-visitor-centre/

6) Terroir. (n.d.). Puffing Billy Railway Visitor Centre. [online] Available at: https://terroir.com.au/project/puffing-billy-railway-visitor-centre/


1) www.youtube.com. (2019). Puffing Billy Railway Lakeside Visitor Centre 3D Video. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngAA1vV2-Ls

2) Ltd, K.C.P. (2021). Kane – Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Centre. [online] Vimeo. Available at: https://vimeo.com/524039552.