Finding the voice of Murray River –designing the Cobram Library and Learning Centre

The Murray River and its surrounding landscape must have a special place in the hearts of the residents living in Cobram, Australia.

When plans were drawn to construct the Cobram Library and Learning Centre several years ago, it was decided that the local community must be involved. From the start, community stakeholders had an active hand in envisioning and building their library-to-be, including the conception of its unique design language. 

Located on the site of the existing Civic Centre, the Cobram Library and Learning Centre encompasses library spaces, reading spaces, community spaces and new technology areas — all in readiness for the digital age and flexible learning across all ages.

The curves and bends forming the façade is the outline of the nearby Murray River, which is superimposed and cut on a timber battened screen.

A ceiling element which acts as a way-finding spine, traverse through the centre of the library space.


Speaking to Cohen Leigh Architects who led the design, they remarked: “ From day one, it was paramount that the project be driven in close consultation with community stakeholders and groups. Frequent community consultation meetings helped drive a collaborative and ‘hands on’ process.”

At last, community stakeholders chose a design language that is evocative of the popular Murray landscapes to represent and celebrate the idea of a ‘local’ library.

The design process involved tracing the line of the nearby Murray River, then superimposing the line as the cut line on a curvilinear timber battened screen meant to be wrapped around the library’s exterior.

The result is a dynamic façade which filters and directs light into the internal library spaces.

The Cobram Library and Learning Centre is designed by Cohen Leigh Architects, together with the local Cobram community, and lots of love.

The role of wood

Wood is featured repetitively in the façade and interior decorative elements where plywood and Maxi Edge Alpine are used.

“The use of timbers, in a variety of different ways, reflects the local Murray river gums. Use of different timbers presented a dynamic way to filter sunlight, and create an ever changing presence. There are wonderful examples of its use throughout the Murray region,” explained the architects.

The ‘Spine’ of the library

Guiding the central pathway is a ceiling element which acts as a way-finding spine, traversing through the centre of the library space. At the edge of the ‘spine’, a series of abstract punctuation around the perimeter subtly define private and flexible break out spaces. The effect is a community space both highly flexible and adaptable.

As expressed by the architect, the ‘spine’ is a “parametric design” which too, reflects the language and fluidity of the nearby Murray River. It is also a low-cost CNC routed solution.

Names lined the edges of the ceiling panels, which belong to community individuals or donors who pledged support towards the project.

“This idea was generated through community stakeholder discussions as a way of fundraising for the project – in the same way a ‘plaque’ often does, but multiplied across a larger scale,” said the architects.

In capturing and articulating the essence of the Murray River, a voice is borne out of love and ownership of its local community. And it can be heard and seen in the Cobram Library.

*All images are credited to Cohen Leigh Architects.

This article was first published in the September/October 2018 issue of Panels & Furniture Asia.