02.05.2023 Frank Kaltenbach

Terraced Landscape by Sanaa in Sydney

Aerial view of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ new building, 2022, © Iwan Baan

The new museum by Sanaa is both spectacular and invisible. Indeed, the polymorphic roofscape of undulating glass and the plaza featuring a solar-power system represent the diversity of Australian culture ranging from indigenous peoples to Pop art and high tech. They are complemented by sloping platforms with seating steps and terraces for artworks, a café and green areas.

Installation view of Francis Upritchard Here Comes Everybody 2022, © Francis Upritchard, photo © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Christopher Snee

In contrast, when visitors tour the exhibition spaces, they hardly notice the architecture. Beneath the thin, flat roofs, their gaze moves over Sydney Harbour through the delicate steel supports and highly transparent glass facades. The museum is more like a covered hanging garden than a building.

Flexible exhibition spaces

The architects have arranged three flexible, introverted exhibition areas, each of which has more than 1000 m² of floor space, as white cubes with terraces of white limestone strips that become part of the artificial topography. 70 % of the new museum world, which gleams in white, rests on existing structures such as a landscape bridge from the 1990s that spans the lanes of the urban freeway. In the lower portion of the sloping lot, it lies on two old oil tanks from the Second World War.

Installation view of Adrián Villar Rojas The End of Imagination 2022 in the Tank at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, © Adrián Villar Rojas, photo © Jörg Baumann

One of these tanks, a concrete container measuring 2200 m² and 7 m in height, has its own particular acoustics. It is used for exhibitions, sound installations and events. Its walls, floors and ceilings, blackened with crude, and its forest of 125 columns create a fascinating juxtaposition to the support-free, bright exhibition spaces above it.

Installation view of Lee Mingwei Spirit House 2022, © Lee Mingwei, photo © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Diana Panuccio

Transparent architecture

The new building, which cost 210 million euros, has expanded the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 9000 m² to 16 000 m². Its transparent architecture forms not only an architectural contrast to the neo-Classical existing museum building from the 19th century and its pillared portico of natural stone. The overall program, which goes by the name Sydney Modern Project, makes a postcolonial statement about Australia’s quest for its own identity, which seeks reconciliation with the culture of the nation’s indigenous people in the face of art, architecture and landscape design based on British infiltration. This philosophy extends to the 24-hour public park surrounding the museum, which displays exclusive planting of native species that have been here since before European settlement.

More about the museum in the Video.
Read more in Detail 5.2023 and in our databank Detail Inspiration.

Architecture, Interior design: SANAA, Tokyo (JP), sanaa.co.jp, Architectus, Sydney (AU)
Client: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (AU)
Location: Art Gallery Road, Sydney (AU)

Landscape architecture: Mc Gregor Coxall, GGN
Construction management: INSW
Structural engineering, Fire prevention consulting, Acoustic engineering,
Lighting design: Arup
Building services engineering: Steensen Varming
Contractor: Richard Crookes Construction

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