Revitalising the museum

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In late 2010 the Museum hosted a dinner to farewell Dr Nicholas Pappas, long time President of the Board of Trustees. As well as a time to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution Dr Pappas has made to the Museum during his tenure, the occasion provided a platform to reflect on the achievements of the institution, and a glimpse at the opportunities that lie ahead.

Many present at the dinner were witness to the opening of the Powerhouse Museum in 1988, a visionary move that introduced new audiences to the unique collections of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, formerly located across the road on Harris Street.

We have since witnessed a significant shift in the expectations of museum audiences. As well as a place of discovery and learning, there is now a call for this museum to be more ‘open’; that is, a more responsive, social space, engaged with new technologies, and a place for the exchange of dialogue and ideas.

This new openness will also manifest in a very literal sense with significant changes to the building, raising the Powerhouse to international standards as a major destination museum. The building works will enable easier access to facilities and engagement with our vast collection and fascinating stories.

The objective: to transform the Powerhouse into an institution that is more ‘open’ both physically and philosophically. Following two years of investigation, consultation and planning, this organisation is much closer to articulating a clear identity and a roadmap for the future. Being understood and valued as a unique cultural institution is one priority; another is to be in a position to attract major international exhibitions of the scale currently enjoyed by the people of Victoria and Queensland.

The revitalisation program will be the first significant physical renewal of the Powerhouse buildings since opening in 1988. Changes to the Museum’s orientation, entrance, retail shop, cafe, and temporary exhibition spaces, will allow us to better meet our changing brief, while maintaining the integrity of the existing building. The process of arriving at a final design for the revitalisation was interesting and resulted in five equally diverse and innovative concepts to consider. From the beautiful and fluid public space conceived by Innovarchi, to the masterful cosmetic inserts proposed by Terroir, the simple yet splendid piazza-inspired treatment offered by Durbach Block Jaggers, the pared-back, organic approach of FJMT, and the elegance of the winning proposal by Toland, each concept presented as highly original and inspiring. This is testament to the high level of talent and sophistication thriving within the Australian architecture industry. An industry this Museum intends to continue to support and showcase through its collections, programs and exhibitions.

While funding for the revitalisation is somewhat limited, it will allow us to achieve the first in a series of changes planned for the Museum. Integral to this first stage is the relocation of the glass passenger lift to the Turbine Hall, for improved orientation within the Museum and a new entry experience that draws attention to the soaring barrels of the Wran building. In its new location, the glass lift offers a fresh perspective on the grand atrium of the Turbine Hall. The new lift will be more practically located directly opposite the new Museum exit through the Switch House where the retail shop and cafe will be relocated. The repurposed Switch House will open onto a redesigned forecourt with external cafe seating, as well as entry and exit points to the cafe and shop.

The Switch House windows will be reinstated offering a fabulous view of the city to the east. The forecourt will be beautifully reactivated through a woven canopy structure designed by the acclaimed Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. The structure will be made from Ban’s trademark reinforced cardboard tubes.

Finally, the new temporary exhibition gallery will be larger and more flexible at 1800 square metres, therefore able to accommodate major international and in-house developed exhibitions, and a variety of smaller exhibitions and programs.

An enhanced design program will be the focus of renewal works on level 2 of the Museum. The repurposed level 2 will showcase the Museum’s impressive and well-loved decorative arts, design and social history collections, through dedicated permanent and temporary exhibits. It will also provide a unique setting for discussion, research and activities that explore the creative process as well as ways to minimise the environmental impact of design, maximise its positive social impact, and build creative capital.

The Museum’s science, technology and mathematics collections and programs will occupy level 1 in the gallery spaces that surround the Turbine Hall. The focus will be to excite young minds with the potential for discovery and adventure in these fields. There are plans for a living laboratory where visitors can participate in experiments and research; dedicated children’s learning spaces; and an innovative and changing exhibition program.

2011 is a busy and exciting year for the Museum. As well as the revitalisation program, we have an impressive line up of exhibitions and programs, including Love Lace: Powerhouse Museum International Lace Award, MARS Pathways to Space, Shining Treasures: Korean Metal Craft , The Wiggles’The Exhibition, and Sydney Design and Ultimo Science Festival.

We look forward to keeping you informed as the Powerhouse Museum undergoes this important period of growth and change, which is vital in our mission to be a world class museum, offering world class experiences.