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Powerhouse relocation set in stone, international design competition forthcoming

After speculation that part of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum could stay at its current site in Ultimo, the New South Wales government has announced the Powerhouse Museum will relocate in its entirety to a purpose-built building by the Parramatta River in western Sydney.

The planned building, to be located on the site of a former department store car park, will become the largest museum in the state. Sited on the south bank of the Parramatta River and bound by Wilde Avenue to the east, it will form the centrepiece of a cultural and arts precinct in Parramatta and will be connected to a planned redevelopment of the Riverside Theatre via an “art bridge.”

The proposed Powerhouse Museum will include 18,000 square metres of exhibition and public space, which is more than 2,000 square metres larger than the 15,708 square metres at the existing museum.

It will also include play areas and education labs for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, and a touring hall for temporary major international interactive and art displays.

Indicative design for a planetarium in the proposed Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta.

Indicative design for a planetarium in the proposed Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta.

Image: Courtesy to NSW government

A 30-metre-wide planetarium with ultra-high resolution 3D video and audio, which will become the largest in Australia, is also planned.

The government intends to conduct an international design competition for the design development of the project.

The government had initially refused to release the business case for the relocation but forced do so after a motion was passed in state parliament.

The business case investigated three options:

  • Option one was the smallest and included a large-scale touring hall for temporary exhibitions, education spaces, artist- and inventors-in-residence spaces, a library and research space, an auditorium, and food, beverage and visitor amenities. The construction cost would be $488 million (in net present value (NPV) terms).
  • Option two included additional gallery spaces equivalent in capacity to the existing museum in Ultimo with a construction cost of $615 million in NPV terms.
  • Option three, the option chosen by the government, extended scope of option two with the inclusion of a planetarium. Construction cost was calculated to be $641 million in NVP terms.

Indicative design for the touring hall in the proposed Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta.

Indicative design for the touring hall in the proposed Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta.

Image: Courtesy to NSW government

According to the business case, “Option 3 has the highest net benefit, provides the greatest functionality (with 18,000 square metres of exhibition and public space) and returns the highest net operating result of the options, but it also has the second highest [benefit-cost ratio].

“The decision before government, therefore, involves a choice between two economically beneficial investment options, trading off the superior customer experiences of option three against the lower capital cost offered by the smaller option one.”

The government’s choice, option three delivers net benefit of $27.7 million compared with $87.7 million for option one with a benefit-cost ratio of 1.02 compared with 1.09.

The net capital cost to the government will be $645 million.

The business case proposed a “design, innovate and construct” model as the referred procurement method.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said, the new Powerhouse Museum “will rival global cultural icons such as the London Science Museum and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.”

Arts minister Don Harwin said the government will retain the cultural spaces at Ultimo. It plans to create a new design and fashion museum and a Broadway-style lyric theatre.

Early works to begin in 2019 expected to be open in 2023.

The government announced in 2015 it would sell the existing Powerhouse Museum site in Ultimo to fund the cost of constructing a new museum in Parramatta.

The relocation is a subject of a parliamentary inquiry into museums and galleries, which is due to deliver its final report on 28 June 2018.

In the interim report, released in December 2017, the committee made a number of recommendations relating to the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum, including:

  • That the business case prepared by the NSW Government consider establishing a Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences satellite site in Western Sydney.
  • That the NSW Government consider investing in a cultural precinct proposal for Western Sydney, such as a migration museum or cultural centre, to be identified during a community consultation process.
  • That the NSW Government consider a range of other Western Sydney sites for a cultural centre or precinct.

Architects Joe Agius of Cox Architecture and Rachel Neeson of Neeson Murcutt were part of a consortium that prepared a preliminary business case relocation of the Powerhouse Museum. Their work concluded in March 2016.

In April 2016, the government announced the site of the former David Jones car park on the Parramatta River was its preferred site and in August 2018 the state government reached an in-principle agreement with the City of Parramatta to purchase the site.

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