The Powerhouse Ultimo is a contemporary museum situated in the heart of the most populous city of Australia, Sydney. With a focus on arts, science, innovation and design, the museum is the major branch of the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney. Sitting at the intersection of arts, design, science and technology, the museum plays a vital role in engaging the communities with contemporary ideas and issues. In the interest of the renewal of the museum, the New South Wales government launched a future national design competition in September 2022 where five design teams were shortlisted to participate in the architectural design competition. 

Out of more than 100 proposals from across Australia, the team’s submission for the museum was unanimously selected by an expert jury. The selected design proposal was done by the team Architectus, Durbach Block Jaggers Architects, Tyrrell Studio, Youssofzay + Hart, Akira Isogawa, Yerrabingin,  Finding Infinity and Arup. The objective of the winning team is to deliver a world-class visionary museum which will uplift the creative industries of the country and underpin Sydney’s reputation as a global cultural destination.

Winner for Powerhouse Ultimo Design Competition revealed by Australia’s Museum of Arts and Science - Sheet1
Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal design renders ©https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/506919/design-for-powerhouse-ultimo-revealed/

Part of the government’s record investment in cultural infrastructure, the revamp of one of the most iconic museums in Australia will reinvigorate the structure to provide experiences under international museum standards and more space for presenting exhibitions to showcase the Powerhouse collection. It will deliver a dynamic applied arts and applied science program along with refurbished, expanded exhibition and public spaces that would connect the museum to the Sydney Central Business District (CBD) and also explore opportunities w.r.t. the orientation of the museum to The Goods Line and connecting it to the nearby cultural precincts.

Winner for Powerhouse Ultimo Design Competition revealed by Australia’s Museum of Arts and Science - Sheet2
Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal design renders ©https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/506919/design-for-powerhouse-ultimo-revealed/
Winner for Powerhouse Ultimo Design Competition revealed by Australia’s Museum of Arts and Science - Sheet3
Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal design renders ©https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/506919/design-for-powerhouse-ultimo-revealed/

With an initial budget of A$500 million for the transformation, the chief executive of the museum Lisa Havilah said that the selection of the winning team was the next step in the renewal process indicating a culmination of years of hard work, stating that the “design honours the institution’s history and heritage whilst simultaneously reimagining how we can continue to engage our communities into the future”. With design features such as exhibition spaces, galleries for immersive shows and learning programmes, a new public square, and creative studios, the executives believe that the distinctive design will achieve a truly world-class museum that will fortify their role at the forefront of global contemporary museums.

Winner for Powerhouse Ultimo Design Competition revealed by Australia’s Museum of Arts and Science - Sheet4
Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal design renders ©https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/506919/design-for-powerhouse-ultimo-revealed/

The design proposal is a testament to the site’s enriching heritage and history which was based on the notion of indigenous Country Centered Design concepts and inspired by memories of the local sandstone escarpment. The design methodology is influenced by the relationships of Australia’s indigenous population and their relationship with various elements of country, community, people, and non-humans to understand the deep-rooted connections and kinships between all that share space. 

Winner for Powerhouse Ultimo Design Competition revealed by Australia’s Museum of Arts and Science - Sheet5
Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal design renders ©https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/506919/design-for-powerhouse-ultimo-revealed/

Along with revamping the museum, the Harris Street Frontage is set to be revitalised with creative studios which will support educational and industrial programs and make the museum’s library and archive more accessible. The Minister for the Arts of the New South Wales Government, Ben Franklin, expressed his positive views on the transformation of the museum stating that the project will be “the foundation of a dynamic and active museum precinct in the heart of Sydney’s CBD for the communities to connect, for families to enjoy and creative industries to thrive”. He also expressed his excitement towards the new Powerhouse Academy which will offer a rooftop camp for secondary and tertiary students from regional New South Wales for an immersive learning experience within the heart of the city.

The Director of Design Camilla Block said that the winning team is delighted and enthusiastic to work on this career-defining project. She also expressed her views on the selected proposal, saying that “the new building will cast a reimagined lens on the heritage fabrics and cityscapes from multiple levels of this escarpment – from uses, circulation, terraces and gardens. Respectful and immediate, the reimagined building lives alongside the Powerhouse core, a powerful embodiment of both geography and backdrop”. 

Winner for Powerhouse Ultimo Design Competition revealed by Australia’s Museum of Arts and Science - Sheet6
Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal design renders ©https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/506919/design-for-powerhouse-ultimo-revealed/

While the transformation of the Powerhouse Ultimo is only a part of the project, the entire infrastructure renewal program is estimated at $1.4 billion which includes inaugurating a new branch of the Powerhouse museums, Powerhouse Parramatta, that is currently underway in Western Sydney followed by expanded research and public facilities at the Powerhouse Castle Hill. Set to be New South Wales’s largest cultural infrastructure project since the renowned Sydney Opera House, the Powerhouse Parramatta is one of the largest structural engineering and architecturally complex projects underway in Australia and will be the state’s largest museum spanning over 30,000 sq. m.

Winner for Powerhouse Ultimo Design Competition revealed by Australia’s Museum of Arts and Science - Sheet7
Powerhouse Parramatta design renders ©https://moreaukusunoki.com/project/powerhouse-precinct-at-parramatta/
Winner for Powerhouse Ultimo Design Competition revealed by Australia’s Museum of Arts and Science - Sheet8
Powerhouse Parramatta design renders ©https://www.genton.com.au/project/powerhouse-parramatta/
Winner for Powerhouse Ultimo Design Competition revealed by Australia’s Museum of Arts and Science - Sheet9
Powerhouse Parramatta design renders ©https://www.genton.com.au/project/powerhouse-parramatta/
Powerhouse Parramatta design renders ©https://www.maas.museum/media-story/historic-30-million-commitment-to-powerhouse-parramatta/

A press release (3rd bullet in ‘Reference List’) posted on 12th December 2022 stated that the timing regarding the construction commencement and the completion of the Powerhouse Ultimo renewal project would be subject to planning, design, and procurement processes. 

Reference List
  • NSW Government | Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (2022). Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal [online]. Available at: https://www.maas.museum/powerhouse-renewal/ [20 December 2022]
  • NSW Government | Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (2022). Powerhouse Parramatta [online]. Available at: https://www.maas.museum/new-powerhouse/ [20 December 2022]
  • NSW Government | Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (2022). Visionary Design for Powerhouse Ultimo Revealed [online]. Available at: https://www.maas.museum/media-story/visionary-design-for-powerhouse-ultimo-revealed/ [21 December 2022]
  • ArchDaily (2022). Australia’s Museum of Arts & Science Reveals Winner for Powerhouse Ultimo Design Competition [online]. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/993673/australias-museum-of-arts-and-science-reveals-winner-for-powerhouse-ultimo-design-competition [21 December 2022]
  • E-flux Architecture (2022). Design for Powerhouse Ultimo revealed [online]. Available at: https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/506919/design-for-powerhouse-ultimo-revealed/ [22 December 2022]
  • World Architecture Community (2022). Design Is Revealed for Transformation of Powerhouse Ultimo in Sydney To Be A “World-Class Museum” [online]. Available at: https://worldarchitecture.org/architecture-news/engmf/design-is-revealed-for-transformation-of-powerhouse-ultimo-in-sydney-to-be-a-world-class-museum-.html [23 December 2022]
  • Time Out England Limited (2022). The visionary new museum design for Powerhouse Ultimo has been revealed [online]. Available at: https://www.timeout.com/sydney/news/the-visionary-new-museum-design-for-powerhouse-ultimo-has-been-revealed-121322 [23 December 2022]
  • Blooloop (2022). Powerhouse Ultimo reveals winning design for A$500m transformation [online]. Available at: https://blooloop.com/museum/news/powerhouse-museum-ultimo-architectural-design/ [24 December 2022]
Author

A dedicated spatial planner enthusiast by day and a wishful writer by night. He has a keen interest in the field of environmentally sustainable architecture and integration of sustainable transportation as an approach towards climate-responsive planning of cities. He enjoys watching Sci-fi documentaries/films and pondering over complicated concepts of life as well as the occasional sitcoms from time to time.

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