Cascades Female Factory History and Interpretation Centre

Competition winning design by LIMINAL Architecture with Snøhetta and Rush Wright Associates.
Render by BrickVisual.

LIMINAL Architecture along with collaborators Snøhetta and Rush Wright Associates, developed a design that unravels the stories that have shaped the Cascades Female Factory and the development of the colony. The proposed design concept, which comprises a holistic and integrated architectural and landscape design, is a powerful reminder of the struggle between light and dark, imprisonment and liberty, punishment and reform, threat and opportunity, horror and hope. These dualities have informed an experience that is revelatory and transformative, culminating in an open forum, dubbed “The empatheatre” [empathy amphitheatre].

The team envisaged an 'empa-theatre' that povided opportuntiy for open forums, performance, re-enactments, education and events where current social issues can be discussed, while reflecting on the past, and inspire a call to action.

Competition winning design by LIMINAL Architecture with Snøhetta and Rush Wright Associates. Renders by design team.

The world heritage status of the Female Factory Site is bound to its location on the Hobart Rivulet and the rivulet’s significance to the historical development of Hobart. As a form of conceptual “excavation” the landscape design acknowledges the many layers of human occupation, settlement, suffering and industry on the rivulet and their intersection with the dynamic natural systems of the creek. Historic foundations are referenced and expressed with sensitive landscaping, providing depth and patina to reinforce the significance of the history whilst protecting insitu archaeological elements.


The design team saw the journey into the History and Interpretation Centre guided through a long, isolated walk with only the sky as the connection to the outside. Removed from reach and slowly stripped of the natural world, visitors are disconnected from the familiarity of their everyday environment and are confronted by the despair of the female convicts.

Through the educational exhibition space, visitors are guided through a labyrinth, the proportions of which replicate those of the cells in the Female Factory. The intention is not to oppress, but to aid understanding and acknowledgement of what has previously taken place at this site. Opportunities to reveal the past are taken through interpretive spaces and transparent floors offering glimpses to the existing excavated foundations below.

An abstracted landscape, where the traces of the former cell dormitory building are brought to the surface as fragmented “models”, only to be covered again with fresh new growth, is a powerful metaphor for the ability of nature to heal.

The design team celebrated the purpose of the centre to fulfill an empowering and educational role recognising the social, cultural and political foundations laid by the convict women, building upon their legacy, connecting to the past to inform the future.