The Art Gallery of New South Wales has outlined a redesign of its $344 million expansion project, Sydney Modern, in a development application lodged with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.
In an attempt to illustrate the significance the project will have for New South Wales’ cultural scene, the submission, led by the Art Gallery of New South Wales Trust, entails expanding the current gallery and transforming it into a world-class art museum fit for the global stage.
The expansion, proposed as a separate, stand-alone building, is located north of the existing AGNSW, partly extending over the Eastern Distributor land bridge and includes a disused naval Fuel Bunker located to the north east of the land bridge.
The new wing, designed by architectural and design firm SANAA in conjunction with Architectus, comprises a new entry plaza, exhibition spaces, shop, food and beverage facilities, visitor amenities, art research and education spaces, multipurpose spaces, adaptive re-use of a former naval fuel bunker, new roof terraces and landscaping and associated site works and infrastructure.
The development will build over the Cahill expressway, spilling north down the Domain towards the harbour. Predominately north of the existing art gallery on underutilised and disused parts of the Domain, including the former naval fuel bunker, the proposal submits that it will "qualitatively improve public space".
The new building has a total area of 7,830sq m, of which 78.8 per cent is proposed above existing structures, according to the environmental impact statement prepared by Architectus.
Since the inception of Sydney Modern in 2013, the project has received a reputation for controversy and industry debate. In 2015, former Prime Minister Paul Keating made the news by slamming the expansion and calling the project a "land grab" entertainment complex "masquerading as art".
Keating published an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald where he accused AGNSW director Michael Brand of constructing a megaplex made feasible only by appropriating open space across an expressway and on land belonging to the Botanic Gardens.
"Brand has spent most of his term in office constructing a gigantic spoof against the civic core of Sydney's most public and important open space" Keating wrote.
Despite the backlash, Sydney Modern received $244 million funding commitment to support the expansion from the NSW Government.
SANAA’s proposed expansion design hopes to integrate a historic institution with contemporary spaces and uses. The development will aim to expand on Sydney’s "cultural ribbon" concept which extends from arts and cultural institutions in Darling Harbour, eastward around the harbour linking the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, the Sydney Opera House, and through to the existing AGNSW.
“An important concept of the design is to blur the boundary between the natural and built,” the submission says.
The design of the proposed expansion will be composed of low pavilions that step with the topography towards Woolloomooloo Bay. The ground floor public spaces and key gallery spaces open out to terraces with views of the harbour and Art Garden. Visitors can orient themselves on their journey through the new building through vistas to the landscape and harbour.”
Along with reducing the built form in the latest plan from 11,000sq m the submission also addressed the project's criticisms, writing that the reduction in public open space is compensated for "improving the biodiversity of the site, improving pedestrian access, and significantly improving quality of landscape spaces and embellishments".
The AGNSW’s stagnant visitation numbers, despite local population and tourism growth, are jeopardising Sydney’s status as a global city that delivers world-class arts and cultural experiences. The existing building is no longer able to accommodate the requirements of a 21st century art museum to satisfy either visitors or staff who work to preserve and interpret the collections in their care."
Sydney Modern is expected to create around 540 construction jobs, and then sustain around 204 full time positions once complete.
Major construction of the project will commence in 2019 with the expansion due for completion in 2021, in time for the 150th anniversary of the Gallery’s founding in 1871.
Following the public exhibition of the state significant development application by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, the next project milestone will be determination of the Development Application in 2018.