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Parramatta Powerhouse Opens Door for Applications


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Artist impression courtesy of NSW Government

The search is underway for an architect for Parramatta’s Powerhouse Museum. The recent announcement, however, sparked numerous concerns regarding the move. The two stage competition has called for both Australian and international design teams, and it is encouraging creative and intellectual collaborations between established and emerging talent.

This announcement has come despite the Labor opposition vowing to keep the museum at its current Ultimo home if it wins the state election. Michael Daley, NSW Labour Opposition Leader, said Labor would spend $45 million on upgrading the current Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, and direct $500 million in funds to the development of a new “world-class cultural institution” in Sydney’s west, rather than relocate the museum.

With Stage One expressions of Interest closing on March 18, the client, Create Infrastructure, is seeking highly-experienced applications from those who can demonstrate capability on a built project of comparable complexity with a value of at least $200 million.

The director of Carriageworks, Lisa Havilah, has been appointed the head of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. She’ll be responsible for overseeing the design, planning, and construction of the Powerhouse's new $1.17 billion home which will be located on the banks of the Parramatta River.

Dr Stephen Ambrose, Ornithologist at Ambrose Ecological Services is encouraging architects to look at the local wildlife when considering the design. 

”The proposed site is located in an important terrestrial (land) bird corridor along Parramatte River. It is also close to the Homebush Bay wetlands—internationally important habitat for migratory shorebirds and Australian waterfowl. Therefore, it is essential the design of a new museum reduces the risk of birds flying along, to and from these areas from striking windows and other panes of glass," Ambrose said,  

“This is a major problem for birds overseas, and it is beginning to become a significant problem in Australia as our towns and cities extend closer to and into important bird habitat areas. This is especially problematic as architects tend to design large and impressive buildings with a lot of glass. Buildings and surrounding courtyard areas should also be designed in a way not to be attractive pest birds, such as pigeons, Indian Mynas, Common Starlings, and Australian White Ibis. Otherwise, there are significant environmental health issues associated with bird droppings.”

The Government has copped plenty of backlash over their decision to move the museum to Parramatta. Many are claiming the money would be better spent revitalising the current building and working on an additional cultural facility at Parramatta. 

Australian Institute of Architects, NSW President, Andrew Nimmo said, “The facility should complement the Ultimo Powerhouse, not replace it. Regardless of who is in government after the upcoming election, we would like to see a MAAS Parramatta facility go ahead, beginning with an exemplary design excellence competition and resulting in a built outcome that delivers ongoing value and benefit for the community and for Western Sydney’s architectural culture.”  

The significance of the Ultimo site is undeniable. The building was constructed in 1899. Historically, it is known for being the original generating station for the supply of electricity to power the tramway network throughout Sydney. 

The Ultimo Power House ceased operations in 1963 and was adaptively re-used to become part of the Powerhouse Museum in 1985. The Powerhouse Museum has been operating from the site since 1988.

The original design of the Powerhouse Museum was certainly a challenging one. It saw NSW Government Architect J Thompson and Design Architect Lionel Glendenning convert the shell of an industrial building into one of the worlds most impressive museums at the time. 

The site represents a good example of a Federation industrial building, making a positive contribution to the streetscape. The subsequent alterations undertaken for the building's conversion to the Powerhouse Museum is significant both for its successful re-use of the buildings and as a modern design. In 1988, it was awarded the Sulman award for architectural merit. 

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