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What is the Sydney Modern Project?

The Sydney Modern Project is the working title for the expansion of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Sydney Modern vision is to create a global art museum for a global city with new and expanded spaces for art in all its evolving forms, along with new opportunities to engage, learn, create and discover. The expansion involves the construction of a new building to the north of the existing and much-loved historic building. The buildings will be linked by a public Art Garden, including an unenclosed covered Entrance Plaza, which will feature sculpture, installations and landscaping.

Why does the Gallery want to expand?

The Gallery has not had a significant expansion in more than 30 years and current spaces are working beyond their capacity. Expansion of the Gallery will ensure we can display more art that can be experienced by more people. It will also ensure we can better meet evolving visitor expectations and create a sustainable future for the State’s public art museum, remaining competitive nationally and internationally.

Does the name ‘Sydney Modern’ mean the new Gallery will focus on modern art?

The name ‘Sydney Modern Project’ is the working title for the Gallery’s expansion. It embodies the Gallery’s vision to provide our growing audiences with one of the world’s great art museum experiences. The expanded Gallery will enable us to display more of the State art collection, host more of the best exhibitions from around the world, offer new opportunities for learning and participation, and further develop creative partnerships with galleries, artists, students and communities across the globe.

Is a new building being built or are you extending the existing building?

A new landmark building, designed by Pritzker prize-winning architects, SANAA, is being constructed to the north of the existing Gallery. The stand-alone building will be connected to the existing Gallery by an outdoor public Art Garden. Together, the new and existing buildings will form an expanded Gallery.

Where will the new building be?

The Sydney Modern Project will enhance the site to the north of the existing Gallery, comprising two grassed concrete platforms – one being the land bridge over the Eastern Distributor and the other being the roof on top of two disused WWII naval oil tanks. The new building will be constructed primarily on top of the oil tanks and include adaptive re-use of the tanks. Most of the land bridge will remain open space with a new public Art Garden.

Will the two buildings be connected?

The new and existing buildings will operate as stand-alone buildings connected via an outdoor public Art Garden, including an unenclosed covered Entrance Plaza, which will feature art and landscape.

Who owns the project site?

The project site is owned by the NSW Government. Its management is split across three State Government entities: the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Roads and Maritime Services, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Sydney Modern Project does not impact on land within the Royal Botanic Garden itself, and the Gallery continues to work closely with its government colleagues to ensure plans and aspirations for the precinct are aligned.

Can you tell me more about the oil tanks?

Part of the Gallery’s expansion will involve adaptive re-use of disused WWII naval oil tanks that make up part of the project site. This will enable public access to a significant State asset for the first time. One of the tanks will be repurposed into a contemporary art space like no other in Australia and the other tank will be converted into back of house and a state-of-the-art loading dock.

What are the benefits of an expanded Gallery?

The Sydney Modern Project will deliver a range of cultural, educational and economic benefits, including:

  • Close to double the current building’s exhibition space to enable the Gallery to show more of the outstanding state art collection under its management and attract major international exhibitions to NSW
  • A new prominent destination showcasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture
  • Increased visitation from an average of 1.2 million people to more than 2 million per year
  • Capacity to double student and teacher visits to 200,000 per year
  • Dedicated spaces and facilities for learning and participation, with innovative and interactive programs
  • Architectural and cultural landmark where people, art and ideas come together in the heart of Sydney’s cultural precinct
  • The first public art museum in the nation to achieve the highest environmental standard for design with a 6-star Green Star design rating from the Green Building Council of Australia
  • The design maximises and enhances open space across the site with courtyards, green roofs and three landscaped accessible roof terraces
  • Improved 24/7 public access, landscaping and civic amenity for all visitors and an improved universal pathway with two new lifts to better connect Woolloomooloo with the CBD
  • Wider economic benefit to the NSW economy of more than $1 billion over the next 25 years

What is the artistic vision for the expanded Gallery?

The Sydney Modern Project will build on the Gallery’s long history of innovation and leadership, by boldly celebrating Australian and international art. Through the connection of art, architecture and landscape, the new building will create experiential and responsive art experiences that are in dialogue with reflective art histories presented in the Gallery’s existing building. Together, the two buildings will create a flexible, compelling and inspiring exploration of art and culture, enabling us to embrace a variety of curatorial ideas and learning practices.

What is the project cost and how is it being funded?

The total cost of the Gallery’s expansion project is $344 million. The project budget covers construction of the new building and limited modifications to the existing building to deliver an expanded Gallery experience.

The Sydney Modern Project is one of Australia’s most significant public-private partnerships in the arts. The NSW Government has committed $244 million for the project and the Gallery’s Capital Campaign has raised more than $100 million in philanthropic support. We appreciate the continued support of the NSW Government and our generous donors in realising our ambitious vision for the Gallery.

Can you tell me more about the Gallery’s Capital Campaign?

The Gallery’s $100 million Capital Campaign to support the construction of the new building was officially launched in August 2017, with a game-changing gift of $20 million from Isaac Wakil AO and Susan Wakil AO, the largest monetary donation in the institution’s 147-year history. Following a positive response to the campaign from donors, the Gallery announced in November 2018 that it had surpassed its target, raising $103.5 million.

We will continue to seek philanthropic support for the Gallery’s transformation including enhancements and modifications to the existing building, as well as launching an art acquisitions campaign next year in the lead up to the our 150th anniversary in 2021.

What changes will be made to the existing building and when?

Several modifications will be made to the existing building to ensure we continue to operate efficiently across two stand-alone buildings and deliver a seamless expanded gallery experience for visitors. Modifications to the existing building will be carried out prior to the opening of the new building.

Who is the Sydney Modern Project architect?

SANAA, headed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, is a Tokyo-based, multiple award-winning architectural and design firm. SANAA was chosen as the 2010 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, making Sejima only the second woman to win the coveted prize. SANAA is working with the Australian firm Architectus as executive architect and a broader consultant team.

Who are the other consultants on the team?

The Sydney-based team includes architectural practice Architectus as executive architect and landscape architects McGregor Coxall. A full consultant team worked with SANAA and the Gallery to complete the State Significant Development Application. The consultant team includes Arup, Steensen Varming and WSP/Atelier Ten.

How did you choose the architects?

The Gallery undertook an invitation-only two-stage design competition endorsed by the Australian Institute of Architects and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects. Twelve renowned Australian and international architectural practices submitted design ideas and following an anonymous judging process, five finalists were selected to proceed to the final design stage. The international competition jury unanimously selected SANAA as the preferred design architects.

How has the design concept of the new building evolved?

The design of the new building has evolved since May 2015 as the Gallery has worked closely with SANAA and responded to feedback from stakeholders, including most recently changing the development in response to submissions received during the public exhibition of the State Significant Development Application.

The new stand-alone building will be linked to the existing Gallery building via an outdoor public Art Garden, including an unenclosed covered Entrance Plaza, which will feature art and landscaping. The new building will have a more compact footprint than envisaged in the design competition with significantly reduced built structure on the land bridge. The new building comprises a series of pavilions which follow the topography of the site and are clustered around a central circulation core that will allow visitors seamless access to each floor.

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 integral to the experience of the new building.

How will you protect the Gallery’s heritage and green space around the site?

The heritage and environmental context of the Gallery’s existing building and its location within Sydney’s cultural precinct in the Domain and adjacent to the Royal Botanic Garden have been key considerations during the evolution of the design. A range of sustainability initiatives will also contribute to the Gallery expansion achieving the highest environmental standards. This includes a 6-star Green Star design rating under the Green Building Council of Australia’s Design and As-Built rating tool, which makes the Art Gallery of NSW the first public art museum in Australia to achieve the highest rating.

How will public access and transport throughout the site change?

Precinct-wide discussions are taking place about public access and transport. Current pedestrian access routes from Woolloomooloo to the CBD via the Gallery and the Domain will be maintained and enhanced with two new lifts to enable better and safer universal access. A range of traffic changes along Art Gallery Road are also proposed to improve the public amenity, safety and accessibility across an expanded Gallery and the broader precinct.

Have you consulted with the community about the design?

The design of the new building has evolved since May 2015 as the Gallery has worked closely with SANAA and taken on board feedback from stakeholders, including most recently changing the development in response to submissions received during the public exhibition of the State Significant Development Application.

Will the Gallery close during construction?

We plan to begin construction in 2019. We do not anticipate a need to close the Gallery during construction. If there are any changes to our operations during construction, we’ll ensure we communicate those changes to visitors and the community well in advance to minimise any impacts.

When will the new building open?
We are aiming to complete work in 2021 – the 150th anniversary of the Gallery’s founding in 1871.

What happens next? Can I have my say?

Planning approval of the Gallery’s State Significant Development Application paves the way for construction of the new building to commence in 2019, with completion expected in 2021 to mark our 150th anniversary. We would like to continue to hear your views about the project. There will be further opportunities to be part of the conversation as the project progresses. Sign up to our e-news in the box at the top of the page to receive regular updates about the project and activities.

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