Green light given for NSW’s biggest cultural scheme since Sydney Opera House

A US$619m plan to relocate the Powerhouse Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences from its site in central Sydney to the western suburb of Parramatta has been approved by the government of New South Wales.

The museum, which has been at its William Henry Street location since 1988, is to have a new home designed by Paris-based architect Moreau Kusunoki and local firm Genton. This will then form the anchor for "the Powerhouse Precinct", intended to become a 24-hour cultural hub intended to attract some 2 million visitors a year into the area.  

If it goes ahead as planned, the precinct will be the largest cultural investment in New South Wales since the Sydney Opera House.

As well as its permanent collection, the museum will have 18,000 sq m of exhibition and public space, as well as 60 studio residences that will be available to scientists, researchers and students for overnight stays. There will also be a 30m diameter domed planetarium, complete with ultra-high resolution 3D video.

A rendering of the planned planetarium (Moreau Kusunoki/Genton)

Lisa Havilah, the museum’s chief executive, commented: "Powerhouse Parramatta will deliver dynamic exhibition, education and community programs that will bring cultural and scientific leaders from around the world and across Australia into Parramatta."

The scheme has been controversial in Australia. When the design was published in December 2019, Labour Party arts spokesman Walt Secord described it as "a monstrosity on stilts".

Around 1,300 submissions were made during the environmental impact process, most objecting to the demolition of a 19th-century mansion known as Willow Grove, which occupies some of the site where the new building will be built. That building will now be relocated and reused.

Work will begin in the next few weeks, with an expected opening date in 2023.

Top image: Moreau Kusunoki and Genton’s rendering of the Parramatta Powerhouse

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