Asked about the $75 million target, Arts minister Don Harwin said the government intended to set an “ambitious philanthropic target” for the new Powerhouse Museum. “The relocated Powerhouse will get an enormous amount of support, I’m quite sure of that.”
The winning design of the western Sydney building for the Powerhouse, also known as the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, has divided public opinion.
NSW opposition leader Jodi McKay branded the government’s estimated $1 billion-plus museum relocation a “colossal indulgence”, while Labor’s arts spokesman Walt Secord labelled the new building a “monstrosity on stilts”.
“The whole design is completely out of step and no effort has been made to engage with Australian design principles and the culture of western Sydney,” Mr Secord said.
“The Berejiklian government was warned about the floodplain at Parramatta and it responded by putting together a Queensland-style flood and cyclone house deep in the heart of Parramatta.”
But Ms Havilah said the museum would be like no other, the cultural centre of not only Parramatta but western Sydney with seven large-scale presentation spaces, and 60 creative residencies and studios that would support scientists, researchers, artists, and school students.
The museum, she said, would redefine what a museum could or should be for its community and was a transformative government investment that “resets and rethinks who has access to culture and where”.
Genton’s founder and director, Steven Toia, said the plan aimed to reconnect the site to country and the city, with its river. “The minimal building footprint will touch the ground lightly and the structure supports a series of hyper platforms, column-free spaces with flexibility and potential.
“These platforms will support an array of simultaneous curatorial experiences and visitors will move through these connected to nature with views over the river and park culminating in a rooftop garden that will grow produce that celebrates all that is western Sydney.”
Asked if the winning architects met budget brief, Mr Harwin said only that the building would be constructed to a set “budget envelope”.
Mr Harwin disclosed that one shortlisted architectural team did try to keep two historic properties at the Parramatta site – Willow Grove and St George Terrace – but it had been judged too expensive. They are now set for demolition.
“That was the assessment of the jury so they went with what, I think, is a far better design,” he said.
City of Parramatta councillor Donna Davis, who has argued the historic buildings should be preserved, reacted with “grief” when she realised the properties would be bulldozed.
She said the destruction of the Victorian-era structures was a “missed opportunity” and heritage buildings were incorporated with modern architecture around the world with “stunning results”.
“I’m not going to give up yet. This is the winning design but it’s not the final plan.”
Mayor Bob Dwyer was disappointed the properties would go but said the new building was “iconic”.
“It’s a strong design, it’s unique and it’s bold. People will see it and say, that’s in Parramatta.”
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald
Megan Gorrey is the Urban Affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.