SANAA is designing Sydney Modern to be “harmonious with its surroundings”.

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SANAA is designing Sydney Modern to be “harmonious with its surroundings”.

Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning studio SANAA has expanded the Art Gallery of New South Wales with a series of pavilions that step down to Sydney Harbour.

Opening to the public on December 3, Sydney Modern is designed to contrast with the existing art gallery’s 19th-century neo-classical architecture, with the two buildings linked by a public art garden.

SANAA’s Sydney Modern opens to the public this weekend

SANAA aimed for the extension, which sits prominently on a hill overlooking Sydney Harbour’s Woolloomooloo Bay, to act in harmony with the scenic location.

“We aim to design an art museum building that is harmonious with its surroundings, one that breathes with the city, the park and the port,” said SANAA principals Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.

Exterior of Sydney Modern by SANAA
The gallery overlooks Sydney Harbour

The building contains 7,000 square meters of gallery space – almost doubling the exhibition area for the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

It consists of a group of interlocking, rectilinear pavilions clustered around a large, glass-walled atrium at the building’s center that reaches over eleven meters at its highest point and has views of the harbor.

Roofscape of Sydney Modern by SANAA
The extension consists of a series of rectangular pavilions

On the lower levels rammed earth was used to build the walls using materials sourced from across the Australian state of New South Wales.

Meanwhile, glass walls have been placed on the upper levels to create views of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Sydney Harbour. On top of and between the pavilions are a total of 3,400 square meters of courtyards and roof terraces, which will be used to house various art installations.

Museum interior by SANAA
It is arranged around a central atrium

The extension includes a series of large spaces for displaying art, with a gallery dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art placed at the entrance level.

There are four more galleries, including two that are over 1,000 square meters each with 5.5 meter high ceilings, located on the lower levels. The building also contains a series of smaller exhibition areas, learning studios for children and school groups and a dedicated studio for creating multimedia works.

“Our vision was to transform the Art Gallery into an art museum campus with seamless connections between art, architecture and landscape,” said Director of Art Gallery of New South Wales Michael Brand.

“Our extension has such a strong sense of place and such an innovative display of art,” he added.

Circulation space within Sydney Modern
The architecture is designed to contrast the gallery’s original building

Underneath the building, a World War II naval fuel bunker has been converted into a 2,200 square meter space called the Tank.

The unique underground space has seven meter high ceilings and will be used for large-scale, site-specific commissions.

The Tank Gallery by SANAA
The tank will be used for large installations. Photo is by Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jenni Carter

Sydney Modern is the first public art museum in Australia to achieve a six-star Green Star design rating. The building is powered entirely by renewable energy, with 10 percent of the energy created by solar panels on the entrance pavilion roof. Rainwater is collected for reuse in irrigation and cooling towers.

Sydney Modern is Japanese architecture studio SANAA’s first project in Australia. Founded by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa in 1995, the Tokyo-based firm was recently named winner of 2022 Praemium Imperiale for architecture.

The firm is known for designing several international museum projects, including a cloud-like structure for the Shenzhen Maritime Museum. Other recent projects by SANAA include a perforated metal-clad campus for Milan’s Bocconi University.

The photography is by Iwan Baan unless otherwise noted.

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