University Of Sydney's Chau Chak Wing Museum Set To Provoke A Cultural Evolution


When a museum becomes too small to house an ever-growing collection of art, cultural items and antiquities, what is the best solution?Is it to store part of the collection elsewhere?According to the University of Sydney, that is not an option.

Thanks to a $15 million donation in 2015 from Chinese-Australian entrepreneur and chairman of Kingold Group Dr Chau Chak Wing, and the design efforts by Johnson Pilton Walker, the university will establish a landmark new museum at the University of Sydney.

Dubbed the ‘Chau Chak Wing Museum’, it will allow precious and rarely seen objects from the University’s collections to be displayed together for the first time.

In order for the Chau Chak Wing Museum to get off the ground, the university will be merging the sites of the current Macleay Museum, Nicholson Museum and University Art Gallery, as well as collections from a number of currently fragmented locations into a single museum ‘super site’. The new museum building will have an approximate gross floor area of 7,500 square metres and will be contained within a building envelope not exceeding 20 metres measured above the lowest point of natural ground level. The museum’s layout will consist of:

  • A collections, education, research and conservation facility at basement level
  • Gallery and exhibition areas on several levels
  • An arrival foyer/orientation gallery
  • Study rooms
  • Restaurant and eating options


Museum vision
According to the University of Sydney, the new facilities will enhance their ability to use their collections for teaching of students, for academic research and cutting-edge investigations, and to enable public access and engagement with items in the collections, many never publicly-displayed before, through innovative and dynamic exhibitions. They also envision the new museum to be a place where Aboriginal significance, “Sandstone University” heritage and a new cultured university environment can be recognised and celebrated.

“Visitors to the museum will be able to see far more of the collections than they can at present,” they said.

“The Chau Chak Wing Museum will embrace the aspirations and needs of teachers, students, researchers and wider communities in Sydney, across Australia and internationally in a multidisciplinary and visionary initiative.


“In line with international best-practice standards, the museum will provide temporary exhibition galleries alongside permanent galleries, while specialised study centres will enable teaching with material culture and scientific specimens designed to match the University’s research and teaching interests.”

The university is becoming increasingly invested in the idea of the museum, as the current demand to see the collections at the Macleay, Nicholson Museums and the University Art Gallery house is extremely high. In 2015, 120,000 visitors were recorded and that number is expected to only get bigger as new pieces are added to the collection.

“While the quality and breadth of the University's cultural and scientific collections position it among the top Australian universities, the current infrastructure housing these collections for teaching, learning and public engagement requires improvement,” the university said.


“In their current state and locations, Sydney University Museums has reached capacity; there is insufficient space for research, teaching and community engagement programs, and we are unable to showcase all of our collections.”

Therefore, the Chau Chak Wing Museum’s major role will be to create a focal point for cultural outreach and sustain a platform for all University teaching and research which is object-based, student-focused and community-orientated. It will encompass public galleries for temporary exhibitions alongside permanent galleries exploring intangible and tangible heritage. By offering collection-focused research areas, teaching spaces, staff areas and a venue for public events, Sydney at large will be able to take full advantage of the University's rich heritage and collections of international significance.


“Museums are an important part of city cultural life. It is a common aspiration of people all over the world to promote cultural heritage, and it’s our responsibility to ensure it is passed on to future generations,” Dr Chau Chak Wing said.

“In the more than 160 years that the University has been established it has continuously strived for excellence in teaching and research, educating many of the world’s most outstanding individuals. This notion of rigorous scholarship is a view shared by Kingold Group’s corporate philosophy – the relentless pursuit of excellence.

“I hope that this collaboration will further promote education and enlighten people, building a platform for greater international cultural exchange,” Dr Chau said.

The new museum will enable the University to display a far greater number of the 700,000 objects estimated to be in the three collections, 99 percent of which are currently not seen because of limited exhibition space.


The official opening is expected to occur in 2018. New South Wales’ Planning and Environment department is currently reviewing the development application for the museum, which is sitting in the exhibition phase of the process. The university expect to begin construction later this year.

Admission to the museum will be free.

“The University of Sydney is dedicated to a multidisciplinary vision of teaching and research, to breaking down barriers to sharing knowledge,” University of Sydney Director of Museums David Ellis said.

“When antiquities meet visual arts and natural history, and collections are viewed as a whole, marvellous conversations can occur.”


Images courtesy Johnson Pilton Walker.

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