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Image of the Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA

The design concept

The Sydney Modern Project will create an architectural landmark that delivers significant cultural, environmental, social and economic dividends for Sydney, NSW and Australia.

Since May 2015 the Art Gallery of New South Wales has been working closely with Pritzker Prize-winning architectural firm SANAA to develop a detailed design concept for the new building in consultation with key project partners and the wider community.

The evolved design concept looks towards the future, thinking about how audiences experience art in Sydney as we transform the Gallery into one of the world’s great art museums.

The evolved design

The Gallery’s expansion, proposed as a separate, stand-alone building, is located north of our existing and much-loved historical building, partly extending over the Eastern Distributor land bridge and includes disused naval oil tanks located to the north east of the land bridge. The new building will be linked to the existing Gallery building via an outdoor public art garden, including a covered unenclosed entry plaza, which will feature sculpture, installations and landscaping.

The entry plaza will provide Gallery visitors with a unique arrival experience before entering the new building. The plaza will serve as a civic space for the city as well as a meeting place for Gallery visitors and school groups to orient themselves. It will be publicly accessible 24/7 and link the existing and new Gallery buildings through landscape and art. The entry plaza will become Sydney’s vibrant new gathering place.

The new building comprises the entry plaza, new exhibition spaces, shop, food and beverage facilities, visitor amenities, art research and education spaces, multipurpose spaces, adaptive re-use of the oil tanks, new roof terraces and landscaping and associated site works and infrastructure, including loading and service areas, services infrastructure, photovoltaic cells and an ancillary seawater heat exchange system.

SANAA’s design responds to the unique project site with a series of pavilions that cascade towards Sydney Harbour and Woolloomooloo. The pavilions will sit low and lightly on the site, shifting gently along the natural topography of the land to preserve existing trees and sight lines. The new building is sensitively complementary to the historic grandeur of our existing Gallery building, with the height of the entry plaza roof below the height of the existing building’s Vernon facade cornice.

Delivering a range of benefits

The proposed development will provide a significant increase in the Gallery’s capabilities to accommodate future increases in visitation, including doubling of guided school student visits per year, and remain competitive as a leading cultural institution in Australia, and as a major cultural destination in the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Located between the Domain, Royal Botanic Garden and Woolloomooloo Bay, the Gallery is surrounded by a rich natural setting. The proposed expansion will be integrated with the landscape to maintain the green character of Sydney’s cultural precinct. A key principle of the Gallery’s expansion is maximising and enhancing public open space. SANAA’s design creates opportunities for visitors to experience a gallery in new ways with both indoor and outdoor spaces fundamental to the experience of the new building. New outdoor public spaces including the entry plaza and art garden will be integral to the experience of an expanded Art Gallery of NSW.

The proposed development will provide for enhanced landscaping, pedestrian links and universal access between Woolloomooloo and the CBD via the Domain. The proposal will also provide public access to the oil tank through its adaptive re-use into contemporary art space, which has till now remained inaccessible to the public.

The proposed transformation of the Gallery will include endemic ecological species and historic species associated with the ‘Governor’s Domain’, with accompanying interpretative information signage throughout the new gardens to be developed in conjunction with the Royal Botanic Garden. The expanded Gallery will become an important art, cultural and garden precinct for Sydney, strengthening the 138-year historic association of art and cultural facilities in the Domain.

Scheduled to open in 2021 for our 150th anniversary, the expanded Gallery will build on our history of innovation and leadership with a meeting of art, architecture and landscape. The new and existing buildings will create an expanded art journey for visitors through beautiful indoor and outdoor areas, with exceptional spaces for art in all its evolving forms, and more opportunities to learn, create, engage and discover. The expanded Gallery will provide Australia with a vibrant cultural gathering place – a place where people, ideas and art come together, fostering a sense of community, imagination and openness.

‘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. We continue to learn more and more about its history, especially about the traditional owners of the land and the site’s importance today for them, and for all visitors. Preservation and harmony with the landscape is a design priority. It is a challenging site including a land bridge over a road and a concrete roof over disused oil tanks. Our intention is that the site will be of greater benefit to the people of Sydney and Australia, and visitors from around the world than it is currently.’