Transforming a landmark cultural precinct
A new standalone building – designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA – is the centrepiece of the Sydney Modern Project, the most significant cultural development to open in Sydney in nearly half a century. The completion of the project creates a new art museum campus comprising two buildings connected by a public art garden on Gadigal Country overlooking Sydney Harbour.
It is the largest government and philanthropic arts partnership of its kind to be successfully achieved in Australia to date. Located in one of the world’s most beautiful cultural precincts, the vibrant new cultural hub almost doubles the exhibition space. Creating a prominent new destination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, with a larger dedicated space to showcase the Art Gallery’s internationally renowned collection.
Designed as a complementary counterpart to the Art Gallery’s revitalised original building with its 19th-century neoclassical façade, the new building responds to the unique project site with a series of interlocking pavilions that gently step down towards Sydney Harbour. The pavilions sit low and lightly on the site, following the natural topography of the land. The new art museum campus comprises two buildings that are connected by an Art Garden on Gadigal Country overlooking Sydney Harbour.
New art spaces include a column-free gallery, a gallery for time-based art, and adaptive re-use of a decommissioned Second World War naval fuel bunker, now known as the Tank, a 2200-square-metre space that is one of Australia’s most unique art destinations.
The project features a new entry plaza; dynamic galleries; dedicated studios for art education and community programs; roof terraces and landscaping; retail; food and beverage facilities; in addition to the public art garden. One of the disused tanks is repurposed into a unique art space and the other is converted into back-of-house facilities and a state-of-the-art loading dock to service the new building.
This transformation has enabled public access to a significant State asset for the first time, and the Art Gallery envisages this to be a special place where visitors feel connected to art whenever they are in this beautiful setting.
Innovative adaptive re-use embedded into sustainable designs
The Art Gallery has set a new sustainability standard by becoming the first art museum in Australia to achieve the highest environmental standard for design. The Sydney Modern Project has been awarded a 6-Star Green Star design rating from the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). This rating exceeds the Gallery’s original 5-star goal and sets a new standard for art museums globally.
WSP developed this holistic sustainability strategy for the Sydney Modern Project in conjunction with the architectural team and the Gallery during the design development phase of the project. Stretching the approach to go ‘beyond the brief’, sustainability was addressed across a broad range of aspects including operation, energy, ecology, water efficiency and transport.
A balanced perspective was required to develop a healthy and sustainable space for a variety of different art types, people, places and energy efficiency. Requirements had to be met for temperature and humidity set points and inertia controls for gallery spaces, as well as managing the exposure to solar radiation and natural lighting level limits. As a result, WSP developed an approach that prioritised achieving required conditions for artworks, whilst driving energy efficiency.
The Gallery also pursued sustainability objectives within the landscape by increasing biodiversity with 70% more trees on site. Outdoor areas will include an art garden, green roofs, courtyards, publicly accessible landscaped ‘art terraces’ and green walls. These areas reflect the Australian landscape using close to 50,000 Australian native species.
Key sustainability initiatives identified during the design development phase of the project included:
- First public art museum in Australia to achieve a 6-star Green Star design rating
- 100% of building’s energy needs powered by renewable energy
- More than 10% of energy needs generated by solar panels on the Entrance Pavilion roof
- Rainwater capture and harvesting reused for irrigation and cooling towers
- Approximately 70% of the new gallery is constructed above existing structures – the land bridge built in 1999 and the concrete roof over two decommissioned World War II naval oil tanks built in the early 1940s. Sustainable features embedded into the design included the use of a brownfield site and the retention and reuse of structure from these WWII oil tanks to reduce embodied carbon impacts
- Minimal car parking and enhanced bicycle storage for better transport options
- Use of low-impact materials
- Maximising daylight in circulation spaces and extensive use of LED lighting
- Managing natural light and solar gain