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Sydney Modern Project Update: June 2016

I am delighted to share the progress we have made on the Sydney Modern Project during the past year working with the renowned architects at Tokyo-based SANAA and our Sydney-based executive architect, Architectus. Together we have evolved the original competition-winning design in consultation with Gallery staff, colleagues outside the Gallery and the broader Sydney community.

The Sydney Modern Project will not only expand the Art Gallery of New South Wales but transform the way we work as a vibrant creative hub where future generations will come together to enjoy the visual arts and Sydney’s broader cultural environment. With every step on this journey, we move toward creating a welcoming and innovative museum that will provide an unparalleled access to the story of Australian art in an international context. Apart from its ambitious art goals, we believe that SANAA’s design for Sydney Modern makes it the country’s most important architectural project.

Sydney Modern Project aerial view (in progress image)

Over the past year we have worked intensively on key aspects of the project, including the nature of spaces for art display, the integration of both performance and learning opportunities, and the connection between the new building, the landscape and the city beyond. Community consultation has also been a focus. It has been both very exciting and a great privilege to be part of SANAA’s creative process as their knowledge of the site, our collection and our Gallery as a much loved civic institution has evolved.

Creating an expanded variety of spaces to display the state’s art collection and the best of the world’s travelling exhibitions continues to be our priority. Drawing on SANAA’s international expertise in art museum design along with the knowledge of our own curatorial team, we continue to work to ensure Sydney Modern will be a catalyst for new ways of making, displaying and experiencing art. At the heart of this will be the nation’s most compelling presentation of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture.

Respect for the beautiful heritage façade of our existing building and engagement with the landscape around our site has been paramount, as has the creation of a respectful transition between the existing and the new buildings. Studies of pedestrian movement through and around the precinct have informed much of the thinking about the blending of the built and natural environment. Ten distinct garden zones have been created to significantly enhance public amenity in and around the site. SANAA has worked on the landscape design of the site with Sydney-based landscape architecture practice McGregor Coxall.

Sydney Modern Project pathway through new garden providing 24/7 pedestrian access between The Domain and Woolloomooloo (in progress image)

Sustainability initiatives which will contribute to the Sydney Modern Project achieving its goal of a minimum 5 Greenstar rating under the Green Building Council of Australia’s Design and As-Built rating tool will include green roofs over 80% of the roof area of our new building; photovoltaic cells on roofs contributing renewable energy; collection and re-use of roof rain water and adaptive re-use of the fuel tanks and their integration into the development.

We have continued to engage with our colleagues at the Royal Botanic Gardens and have sought their guidance in a number of areas including species of native grasses and Sydney wildflowers that would be suitable for our landscaped roofs. Exploring such a reintroduction of a more biodiverse natural environment has been another major focus of this stage of the project.

One of our most significant challenges during this first year has been the complexity of site itself which includes the land bridge over the Cahill Expressway and the roof of disused WWII-era fuel tanks. Ownership is split across the Gallery and land we own to the north adjoining the existing building (6%) and two other public entities: the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust (57%) and Roads and Maritime Services (37%) with 60% of the Sydney Modern site lying on top of existing concrete structure. We are pleased to announce that 80% of the new building’s footprint will sit on top of this existing structure. After further consultation with horticulturalists, SANAA has also shifted the volume of one of the pavilions to preserve a significant Port Jackson Fig.

Over the past 12 months the Gallery has been developing a capital fundraising campaign to support NSW Government funding. This campaign to raise significant funding from the private sector will be launched in the coming months. The Gallery has also approached the Federal Government seeking support for Sydney Modern. We have been highly encouraged by our initial discussions with potential donors and we greatly appreciate the continued support of our generous benefactors, and their passion for the project, as we work towards realising the Sydney Modern vision.

We are now approaching the next stage of this landmark project, and anticipate the Gallery will submit its Development Application (DA) for the new building in the coming months. We will then share the evolved design with all our stakeholders as part of the DA process.

The NSW State Government continues to be supportive of the Sydney Modern Project. To date $14.8 million has been allocated in Government funding for the design phase. The Gallery submitted a detailed business case to Government to support our request for further design and then construction funding. The plan is currently with Infrastructure NSW and will be assessed through the Cultural Infrastructure Strategy.

It has been very heartening to see the overwhelmingly positive community response to the Sydney Modern Project so far. As the project develops we will continue to consult with our public and seek feedback. Over the next year the Gallery will hold a series of events for our community to learn more about the project and meet the project team. I hope you will take advantage of the opportunities to learn more, and to share your views, as we take this remarkable journey together—for art, for Sydney and for Australia.

Michael Brand

Featured event: Art After Hours

Wednesday 27 July, 6.30pm

Director Michael Brand in conversation with Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, SANAA. Join us for a discussion in the entrance court about SANAA’s international work, the most inspiring art museums from around the world, and SANAA’s Sydney Modern Project evolved design.
Free. No bookings required

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