Australian Museum Project Discover
Location: New South Wales
Designer: COX Architecture
Photography: Brett Boardman
Revitalising History: COX Architecture and Neeson Murcutt Transform the Australian Museum in Sydney
The Australian Museum in Sydney has undergone a transformation, courtesy of a close collaboration between COX Architecture and Neeson Murcutt + Neille. Dubbed Project Discover, the fourth intervention at the museum is the largest of its kind and is aimed at improving the visitor experience and attracting more visitors. The museum, which was founded in 1827, is Australia’s first museum and forms part of the eastern threshold to the CBD.
The design of the new museum has opened up the space, making it more accessible and enabling universal public access throughout the building. A new 1500m2 gallery for ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions has been added, along with improved patron facilities and spaces for members and education. The design also revealed and celebrated the museum’s rich historic layering and heritage, by foregrounding authentic heritage and improving way-finding.
A new civic space was uncovered at the centre of the museum, through the removal of the Still Addition mezzanine and rationalisation of floor levels. This ‘Grand Hall’ eliminated ramps and established a primary public datum with a new floor set 1m above the existing level, matching the adjacent Barnet and Vernon galleries. The new touring gallery is located under the Grand Hall and is accessed via escalators.
The design of the museum has combined a sympathetic understanding of the cultural heritage of the original buildings and additions, resulting in a new way to experience the nation’s first museum. The Crystal Hall has been expanded, while the Parkes Farmer stair has been relocated to the north, providing views of St Mary’s Cathedral. The new stair, dubbed the ‘Escher’ geometry, resolves the varying floor and landing levels and adds new ‘delight’ in vertical movement through the museum.
Cloaking and public amenities have been added to the original basement, and sandstone walls have been revealed. New member and education spaces are also located in the Parkes Farmer wing. This complex adaptive reuse project required the creative cooperation of the entire team throughout all phases, and the record attendance figures achieved in the first two months of reopening speak for themselves.
The new Australian Museum is a showcase of innovative design, which celebrates and showcases the museum’s rich heritage, while providing a new and exciting visitor experience. It is a new civic space for Sydney where visitors can enjoy the architecture and exhibitions, and it is sure to be a hit with locals and tourists alike. The Softscape Pebble stools, with their mobility, reconfigurability and versatility, were the perfect choice for the interior of the Australian Museum, embodying the dynamic spirit of today’s public spaces that demand a new level of flexibility.
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