Smooth sailing for Townsville’s maritime museum

How RLB’s careful costing helped chart a new course in tropical design



The relics from one of history’s most famous shipwrecks, the HMS Pandora, are not only the centrepiece of Townsville’s Museum of Tropical Queensland. The sailing ship’s collision is also commemorated in a unique design and much-loved building that, more than two decades after opening, remains an unmatched landmark in a growing city.

The Pandora, best known for its ill-fated voyage and famous cargo – the Bounty mutineers – sank on the Great Barrier Reef in 1791, claiming 35 lives. Hidden by the deep blue for more than two centuries, the British Navy’s vessel was rediscovered in 1977. Hundreds of artefacts, carefully excavated by the Museum’s archaeologists, historians and scholars, needed a bespoke building to share the Pandora’s story.

At a glance

  • Client
    Queensland Museum
  • Services
    Cost Management & Quantity Surveying
  • sector
    Public & Civic
  • Location
    Townsville, Australia

Exceeding expectations with design and delivery

The museum, which opened in the year 2000, was delivered following a hotly-contested design and tender competition. As part of the winning design team, RLB was committed to the museum’s development from its embryonic phase. Being part of the bid team from the very beginning meant RLB could meet the client’s vision and, with skilled cost and value management, incorporate challenging design elements without exceeding the budget.

With its unique sail shape and prominent place on the waterfront, the MTQ Building defines the city of Townsville in much the same way that the Sydney Opera House does. It is an instantly recognisable icon.
Chris Marais, Director, RLB

RLB established its Townsville office in 1973, and since then has been engaged to by most major project teams in North Queensland. RLB’s team of local talent and national and global networks were a strong anchor for the milestone project completed at the halfway point of our 50-year commitment to Townsville.

Townsville’s maritime treasure trove

The design of the MTQ Building reflects the museum’s purpose: to celebrate the cultures, customs and environments unique to the Queensland tropics.

Designed by Cox Rayner, the building features a timber-lined vaulted gallery that echoes the line and form of a ship’s hull. The gallery is home to a replica of Pandora, as well as treasured artefacts – from navigational instruments to the shackles that held the mutineers.

  • 9,000
    archaeological objects
  • 8,000
    in size
  • 23
    years of RLB engagement

Local knowledge brings imagination to life

With deep local knowledge and five decades of on-the-ground experience in Townsville, RLB was again part of the team that carried out refurbishments to the museum in 2020. Key personnel who were part of the first ‘dream team’ were on hand to, once more, bring imagination to life.

A showcase for the secrets to Pandora’s box

The MTQ Building boasts the hallmarks of tropical design: carefully considered indoor-outdoor flow that connects the spaces; natural ventilation and materials that blend with the surroundings; overhangs and shade that allows for abundant sunlight. Affectionately known by locals as the ‘Pandora museum’, the MTQ Building is a centre of knowledge for school groups and scholars of maritime history. It is also a gathering place for tourists and locals who are drawn to a beautiful building that brings together the best elements of tropical design.