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Acclaimed landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson joins Sydney Modern Project global team

Friday 20 November 2020

Landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson. Photo: supplied.

The Art Gallery of NSW expansion known as the Sydney Modern Project will provide an exceptional experience of art, architecture and landscape in one of the world’s most beautiful urban locations.  

The Gallery today announced internationally acclaimed landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson and Seattle firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) are designing feature landscape elements for the expansion, working with the Sydney Modern Project architect, SANAA, and landscape architect, McGregor Coxall.

Features being designed by Gustafson and GGN include the new public art garden, which incorporates the Entry Plaza of the Gallery’s new building designed by SANAA and currently under construction, and the revitalisation of the grand forecourt of the existing building. 

The landscape design will create a unified art museum campus connecting the existing and new buildings, unfolding as a sequence of experiences for visitors across open spaces and gardens that are free and accessible to all, 24 hours a day.  

The design complements the architecture of the Gallery’s new building as well as maximising open space and public amenity. There will be 381 trees across the campus when the expansion is completed in 2022, an increase of more than 70% on the number of trees before construction.

The Gallery is the first art museum in Australia to be awarded the highest environmental standard for design with a 6-star Green Star rating. This achievement for the Sydney Modern Project, including landscape and open spaces, is testament to innovative design and the Gallery’s commitment to sustainability. 

Gustafson’s high-profile international projects include the 100-hectare Eiffel Tower Park currently under way in Paris, the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall in Washington DC completed in 2016, and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in London’s Hyde Park, completed in 2004. 

Director Michael Brand said the Gallery is delighted that Gustafson, a regular visitor to Sydney over many years, will design a magnificent series of landscape spaces and create a unified presence along Art Gallery Road for the new art museum campus. 

“Kathryn is driven by a desire to enhance the human experience of landscape. As a member of the Sydney Modern Jury, which in 2015 unanimously selected SANAA as the preferred architect for the Project, she has a deep understanding of SANAA’s design philosophies, which will ensure seamless indoor and outdoor art encounters for visitors,” Brand said. 

“We’re privileged to have such a renowned landscape architecture team working on our Gallery expansion that will bring together art, architecture and landscape in a spectacular way and where visitors to the Gallery, The Domain and adjacent Royal Botanic Garden will enjoy new art experiences unique to Sydney,” Brand added. 

Kathryn Gustafson said, “It’s an honour to work on the Sydney Modern Project – the expansion of one of Australia’s and Sydney’s most prominent art destinations.  

“Public open spaces are, by definition, inclusive and diverse and it’s exciting to create welcoming and unique experiences for all visitors to connect with the environment both natural and cultural.” 

Landscape design feature elements

Art garden
The art garden will occupy the area between the existing and new buildings, from Art Gallery Road at the west to the eastern end of the land bridge over the Eastern Distributor. The aim of the art garden is to create a vibrant new civic space for Sydney that provides: 

  • A verdant and shaded link between the Gallery’s existing and new buildings 
  • Improved 24/7 universal pedestrian access between Woolloomooloo, The Domain and the city beyond through the centre of the expanded campus
  • Enhanced sightlines to the surrounding parkland, the city and the harbour
  • Variegated plantings, still under development, that will provide an inspired landscape presence at the heart of the campus
  • A gently sloping circular space at its centre for rest, relaxation and play with acoustic and visual separation from the expressway provided by a crescent-shaped hill at its eastern edge
  • A landscaped ‘rain catcher’ that collects rainwater from the wave-form glass canopy over the Entry Plaza for water harvesting as part of the 6-star Green Star sustainability rating
  • Multiple spaces for art experiences, art-related programming and other events

Future major art commission
A spectacular site has been set aside within the art garden for a future major art commission that will draw upon its landscape forms to create a unique work of art at the heart of the campus.

“It is our ambition that this future art commission will be a major part of the Gallery’s narrative as an expanded and transformed art museum,” Brand said. “This is a perfect opportunity for us to work with an artist who also dares to dream big at this important moment in our history.”

Revitalisation of the existing building forecourt 
The Sydney Modern Project encompasses the revitalisation of the existing Gallery building, which dates back to the end of the nineteenth century with significant additions that opened in 1972, 1988 and 2003. 

Brand said the Gallery’s aim is to reinstate and enhance the iconic building’s original architectural fabric.   

“This includes revitalising the original grand forecourt in front of the city-facing facade and adding two reflecting pools, designed by Kathryn, creating a new visitor welcome through this magnificent civic space that will also be better connected to pathways across Art Gallery Road and through The Domain to the city,” Brand said. 

With the additional public space of 852sqm in the forecourt to be created through the removal of car parking bays approved in 2018 as part of the State Significant Development Application (SSDA), the design features will include:

  • Shallow reflection pools of highly polished stone added either side to the front entry of the existing building, providing reflection of the portico – whether with or without water
  • Reuse of the low stone heritage walls in front of the existing building re-establishing their elegant curves as well as raising them to their original height to provide communal seating 
  • Improved accessible pedestrian entry to and from The Domain from Art Gallery Road opposite the Gallery.

Enhanced landscape design
The Gallery’s landscape design aims to create opportunities for the integration of artworks, resulting in a visitor journey where landscape and art are closely intertwined.

The design also better connects the expanded Gallery to the adjacent Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and The Domain, as well as to the city, Sydney Harbour and neighbouring Woolloomooloo. 

These feature elements build on the overall campus SSDA-approved landscape plan designed by the project’s landscape architect McGregor Coxall, and further integrate the architecture with the landscape. 

McGregor Coxall founding principal Adrian McGregor said: “The McGregor Coxall planting strategy for the Sydney Modern Project draws upon endemic ecological communities that give Sydney Harbour its rich character.”   

“Our planting design reintroduces coastal sandstone gully, foreshore forest and woodland plantings to this site. A diverse mosaic of canopy and understorey trees, shrubs, and groundcovers will increase biodiversity,” McGregor said. 

The Gallery is also delighted to be working closely with the Royal Botanic Gardens to provide extensive landscape enhancement south-east of the existing Gallery building to improve the experience and amenity for all visitors and commuters to the precinct. 

Brand said, “We welcome Kathryn Gustafson and GGN to our architecture and design team joining SANAA, Architectus and McGregor Coxall as we create an exciting new art museum experience for Australia’s global city.”

About the Sydney Modern Project landscape design
The new building, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Tokyo-based architects Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA, with Architectus as Executive Architect, will almost double existing exhibition space, creating seamless connections between indoor and outdoor spaces. With the highest standards of landscape architecture and design, the Gallery’s unique parkland setting will provide opportunities for new types of visitor experiences, with the potential to become one of Australia’s most significant public spaces. The landscape design will increase the biodiversity of the site and include endemic planting to reinstate historic Australian native species more in keeping with the original flora of the site.  

The Sydney Modern Project’s landscape plan by McGregor Coxall was approved in 2018 as part of the State Significant Development Application. The refinement of this plan with feature elements designed by Kathryn Gustafson and GGN is the subject of an SSDA modification currently lodged with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry, and Environment.

About Kathryn Gustafson and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol
Kathryn Gustafson is a globally renowned landscape architect with 35 years of distinguished practice. Among her many accolades, Kathryn was recognised with the 2019 Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award, the highest honour bestowed by the International Federation of Landscape Architecture. Kathryn is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architecture, an honorary Royal Designer for Industry member and a medallist of the French Academy of Architecture.

Kathryn is a partner in two landscape architecture firms, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) – founded in Seattle, Washington in 1999 with Jennifer Guthrie and Shannon Nichol – and Gustafson Porter + Bowman in London. Her work with GGN includes the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago. In 2011, Kathryn and her GGN partners received the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Landscape Architecture, and GGN received the 2017 ASLA National Landscape Architecture Firm Award.

Kathryn’s work with Gustafson Porter + Bowman includes the Site Tour Eiffel in Paris, Valencia’s Parque Central in Spain, Westergasfabriek Culture Park in Amsterdam and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in London’s Hyde Park.

About the Sydney Modern Project
The Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Sydney Modern Project is an important transformation of one of Australia’s pre-eminent art museums: a new standalone gallery building, the revitalisation of its much-loved late-19th-century neo-classical building and the creation of a new public art garden and civic space for all. Together with the NSW Government’s $244 million in funding, the Gallery has raised more than $100 million to support the expansion project. It is the largest government and philanthropic partnership of its kind to date in the Australian arts. 

Construction of the Gallery’s new building designed by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA, with Architectus as Executive Architect, is under way by Richard Crookes Constructions and is scheduled for completion in 2022. Infrastructure NSW is the delivery agency for the project on behalf of the Gallery and the NSW Government. The Gallery remains open during construction.  

Media contact

Simone Bird
Tel 02 9225 1674
simone.bird@ag.nsw.gov.au