Sydney, Australia

Sydney Modern Art Gallery – Competition Finalist

RMA Architects was one of 5 finalists in a blind invited competition of 12 international architects to design the Sydney Modern Gallery in Australia. The two stages of the competition were held between Oct 2014 and May 2015. see announcement and jury citation RMA Architects proposal is about the connection between Earth and Sky. On this beautiful site, in the midst of the Royal Botanic Gardens and close to the water’s edge, is an opportunity to make a cultural centre that is anchored in the deepest beliefs of Australian society.

In invoking the Art Gallery NSW’s place as a 21st century global art museum, Sydney Modern addresses two crucial issues:

Its aspirations—to represent a modern society necessitates bridging the East-West dialectic that is emblematic of Australia’s particular position – of her ability to straddle the geopolitically disparate worlds of Europe and Asia. The AGNSW and Sydney Modern address the duality by being both European – with a Neoclassical building, as well as Asian – with a more subtle attitude to the land and the paradigm of a building embedded in the earth. The building unfolds as a sequence of spaces deeply linked to Australia’s landscape; with the indigenous art becoming a distinctive and core element of the AGNSW.

Connecting to an Ancient Geography: The indigenous culture of Australia is based on spiritual ties that bonds it inevitably to the land itself—to be born of the spirit which inhabits the land, and on dying, return to the earth to be reborn. The Void at the centre of the building, with a gallery for Aboriginal Art surrounding it. It is a place for contemplation, solitude, gathering, performance, and cutting edge installations. The Void is the central gesture, the central covenant that connects this earth building to the sky. This primordial relationship has deep resonance both in terms of Australia’s past and future – as through abstraction it is simultaneously ancient and modern.

Conceptual ideas for the project:

– Building is an armature for Art. A museum should not be a singular image and overpower the artifacts; rather the site allows a plural dispensation of architectural strategies and form (or non-form, or earth-building).
– Circulation that allows for respite, pause, contemplation and orientation. The circulation around the Void orients the visitor – coming out of the galleries, from any of the radial points, the Void is a place for respite, and a potential site for art installations.
– The plurality of the collection is reflected in the building, and this translates into a collection of gallery spaces, that are individual yet work as an assemblage to create a whole.
Straddling different landscapes; a historic building, expressway deck (land bridge with negligible load), industrial oil tank (recycling). Multiple associations for the multiple terrains, with multiple entrances – creating a porous building that engages and also negotiates these landscapes.

Context and Accessibility are addressed by the ease by which the visitor can walk through and around the building, making it a part of the context. The landscape mediates the spatial language of the formal Neoclassical building, the colonial English-style botanic garden, and the low heathlands native to the coastal basin. The plaza is sited under the canopy of a high-branching grove of indigenous evergreen trees.

The ‘Museum of the Future’ would have the opportunity to deploy digital technology on several fronts – for interpretation, guidance and orientation to name a few. Through digital technology, would the public have greater access to Art? Perhaps yes, as everything from holograms to replicating objects with a 3D print, leads to the public having more access and a better understanding of the collection. And so a porous, pluralistic building benefits from this adaptability to different mediums. A museum that exerts the minimum physical presence, blurs its edge, and therefore implicitly expands into the Cultural Plaza, the Domain and the City of Sydney at large.


Design Team: RMA Architects with AKT II, Atelier Ten, Vogt Landschaftsarchitekten, ARUP, Verner Johnson and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer