In mid-October, the Pritzker Prize-winning firm SANAA released new images for its expansion of the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). Since previous announcements in 2017, these renders depict a clearer vision of transparent, open structures with green roofs, offering a fresh contrast to the building’s pre-existing neo-classical facade.
In total, the gallery’s exhibition space will grow from 9,000 square meters to a sprawling 16,000. This expansion includes new learning studios, multimedia works, and two galleries each covering over 1,000 square meters with 5.5-metre-high ceilings. Upon entering into the renovated gallery, the first thing visitors will see is a collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. This focal point reflects AGNSW’s commitment to collecting and displaying art from, as well as directly engaging with, local Aboriginal artists and their communities.
“We continue to learn more and more about [the area’s] history, especially about the traditional owners of the land and the site’s importance today for them, and for all visitors,” said SANAA. “Preservation and harmony with the landscape is a design priority.”
The two main galleries will be separated by an open, public art garden. On either side, rectangular pavilions form a cascading staircase down to Woolloomooloo Bay. Visitors will thus be able to move up and down through the space’s various levels all while taking in sweeping views of the Sydney Harbour. Through dynamic indoor and outdoor spaces, SANAA hopes to transform the way visitors interact with art.
“We have been working very closely with the Gallery to refine our initial concept design for the Sydney Modern Project. We have come to know the project site very well,” stated SANAA.
The site was especially challenging for SANAA due to the land bridge and various disused WWII naval oil tanks underground. By repurposing one of these decommissioned tanks into an art space, the firm seeks to incorporate previously-unrealized elements into the gallery’s expansion. The resulting subterranean space will cover 2200 metre with 7-metre ceilings, adding a breadth of potential with which to display contemporary works, house exhibitions, and organize performances. This will be the first time the public is given access to the antique tank.
“The expanded Gallery will be what Sydney, particularly Western Sydney, and NSW deserve – a visionary art museum of global attraction, enhanced capacity and economic impact,” said John Kirman, executive director of the Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE). “Embracing the future, Sydney Modern will deliver enriched cultural, educative and community benefit.”
The project was awarded the “world leadership” rating for its design, which leverages solar panels, green roofs, rainwater collection, and other water efficiency measures. AGNSW is thus the first public art museum in Australia to achieve the standard. That said, sustainability isn’t the only area in which the Sydney Modern project innovates; it’s also the largest Australian governmental and philanthropic partnership of its kind. To finance its ambitions, the government contributed AUD 244 million while the remaining AUD 100 million was raised through a fundraising campaign. With this huge investment, AGNSW is enthusiastic to generate bigger forums for cultural and artistic exchange.
“SANAA’s sublime design allows us to bring together art, architecture and landscape in spectacular new ways to create a unique art museum experience for everyone to enjoy in our vibrant global city. Sydney provides a unique perspective on the world that we are referencing for both the creation of new spaces and the revitalisation of our existing galleries,” said gallery director Dr. Michael Brand.
Located beside the Royal Botanic Garden in the heart of Sydney’s cultural precinct, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is renowned for its collection of Australian art from the early 19th century to the present. The gallery also boasts significant collections of European, East Asian, and Southeast Asian art. The first works to enter its 1879 collection, in fact, was a gift of ceramics and bronzes from the government of Japan, the country from which SANAA is based.
SANAA was founded in 1995 by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. The two architects have since erected structures such as The Shard in London and the Los Angeles Concert Hall, earning them the Pritzker Prize in 2010. Their current work on the Sydney Modern Project is set to be completed in 2022, one year after the AGNSW’s 150th anniversary. The gallery will remain open during construction, though on reduced hours due to COVID-19.
“We hope the Sydney Modern Project will be a special place for visitors to experience the shared joy of art and ideas in this unique and beautiful setting,” said Kazuyo Sejima, one of SANAA’s co-founders. “This is our first building in Australia, and we are delighted it is being realised.”
Infrastructure NSW, on behalf of the gallery and the NSW Government, is delivering the Sydney Modern Project. The building contractor is Richard Crookes Constructions.