Sustainability Initiatives for Art Gallery of NSW Expansion Recognised

Late last year, the AUD$344M expansion of the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), known as the Sydney Modern Project, received State Government planning consent.

Banner image:  The Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA © Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2019.


The new building, which will bring together art, architecture and landscape in a beautiful cultural precinct, has set a new standard for museums around the world by achieving the highest environmental standard for design with a 6-star Green Star Design rating.


WSP has been working in partnership with Atelier 10 since 2015 when we were invited to tender for the provision of sustainability services.


Together, Richard Palmer, Director, Sustainability and Sean Holmes, Associate, Sustainability, developed a holistic sustainability strategy for the project, and stretched the approach to go ‘beyond the brief’ by addressing sustainability across a broad range of aspects including in operation and construction management, energy, ecology, water efficiency and transport.


Specifically, a balanced perspective was required to develop a healthy and sustainable space for a variety of different art types, people, places and energy efficiency. Working with extremely stringent internal condition constraints in some spaces, we had to meet requirements for temperature and humidity set points and inertia controls, as well as managing the exposure to solar radiation and natural lighting level limits. As a result, we developed an approach which ensured the preservation of artworks, whilst driving energy efficiency.


Some notable highlights of the sustainability features embedded throughout the design, include:

  • A 250kW rooftop solar system
  • Retention of structure from the WWII oil tanks to reduce embodied carbon impacts
  • Rainwater harvesting, storage and reuse systems improved water efficiency


“Beyond the achievement of the 6-Star design rating, WSP acquired the trust of the client early in the project– firstly during the design competition, and secondly in the early part of the concept design phase,” explains Sean.“ WSP provided robust and highly focused design advice, specific to this type of development. The outcome is the achievement of sustainability certification beyond the project brief, and ultimately, a design for one of the most sustainable civic buildings in Australia.


“Working and collaborating alongside international award-winning architects SANAA from Japan was a highlight for me on this project. I am also humbled to know that the project will put the AGNSW and WSP on par with other globally recognised developments such as:

  • The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York City
  • Rolex Learning Center at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Toledo Museum of Art's Glass Pavilion in Toledo, Ohio


This new building will be an icon for Sydney. It will bring extremely valuable social benefits to a growing and densifying city. More importantly, it will allow Australia to exhibit more of the world’s best art.


Construction on the project will begin this year and is scheduled for completion in 2021/22 for the 150th anniversary of the AGNSW’s founding.


Artist impression for the Art Gallery of NSW expansion at dusk.

Image of the Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA © Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2019.


Sydney Modern Project Leads the Way

The AGNSW’s expansion is the most recent project to add to the growing list of developments supported by WSP that ‘go beyond the brief’. These include La Trobe University Melbourne, Queen’s Wharf Brisbane, Parklands Gold Coast – all of which have achieved recognition from the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star Communities Accreditation.


The objectives of the Sydney Modern Project are to significantly increase exhibition space for the State art collection; create a new prominent showcase of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, as well as enable the AGNSW to host more of the world’s best art exhibitions. It hopes to encourage use and enjoyment of the site by the public by promoting and increasing the educational, historical, cultural and recreational value of the area. It includes adaptive re-use of a former naval WWII fuel bunker that will create a unique contemporary art space.


Further to this, the project will maintain and improve the landscape and disseminate knowledge with respect to the plant life of Australia by way of significant native landscaping proposed; and create a new civic space and ‘Art Garden’ connecting the new and existing buildings through art commissions and landscape.


The expansion will support lifelong learning by providing innovative learning spaces and facilities. It will also:

  • Enhance digital capabilities to expand and deepen engagement with diverse audiences
  • Create new opportunities for the Gallery’s membership bodies
  • Improve universal public access across the site
  • Increase visitation from an average of 1.2 million to over 2 million people per year, including doubling student and teacher visits to 200,000 per year
  • Significantly increase cultural tourism to Sydney and become the heart of Sydney’s cultural precinct
  • Create an architectural landmark for Sydney.


With record audiences, the proposed development will allow the AGNSW to reinforce its position as the State’s pre-eminent art museum and create further opportunities to partner and engage with other cultural and educational institutions, thereby contributing to the wellbeing and prosperity of Sydney, NSW and Australia.


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