Image of the Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA © Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2018; Image of the Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA © Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2018;

Sydney Modern Project, Sydney

A fusion of art, architecture, heritage and landscape

The Art Gallery of New South Wales’ (AGNSW) Sydney Modern Project will see the Gallery almost double its exhibition space – creating a new, collaborative and immersive landscape for the public to experience and enjoy art in all its forms.

Arup was engaged by the Gallery in 2015, with more than 15 disciplines, including civil, structural, acoustic, fire and hydraulic engineering and security advisory services, collaborating with the architect to bring the international design competition winning vision for the Sydney Modern Project to life. Arup continues to work alongside AGNSW, SANAA, Architectus and Richard Crookes Constructions as this project progresses. 

SANAA’s design responds to the site’s natural topography, with interlocking pavilions that nestle into the surrounding landscape and integrates the land bridge over the freeway below and the subterranean heritage structures.  As well as a large extent of the new galleries being supported by existing infrastructure, one of the underground WWII naval oil tanks will be repurposed and enlivened as an immersive art space. 

Each of the Gallery’s pavilions connects with the outdoors – roof terraces, courtyards, public walkways, and a 24/7 accessible art garden.

The light, expansive design includes a new prominent destination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, new performance overlays and education facilities that cater for community and student activities. With increased space the Gallery can showcase more of its outstanding collection and attract more of the best national and international exhibitions to Sydney.

When complete the Sydney Modern Project will better connect people across Sydney’s eastern cultural precinct – from Woolloomooloo to the CBD – while taking in the natural beauty of the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Harbour and the Domain.

Project Summary


22,000sqm expansion to existing Gallery space

2,200sqmunderground art space in a repurposed WWII oil tank

2millionprojected visitors per year

Image of the Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA © Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2018 Image of the Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA © Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2018

Shaping Sydney’s cultural landscape

The expansion to the Art Gallery of NSW comprises a series of interlinked steel-framed pavilions cascading down the hillside from Art Gallery Road towards Woolloomooloo. Part of the building rests on an existing 'land bridge' above a freeway, with another gallery constructed entirely in a disused WWII naval fuel bunker.

Above: Image of the Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA © Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2018 Featuring artworks left to right: Reko Rennie, Murri Totems, 2013 © Reko Rennie, courtesy of the artist and Blackartprojects; Clement Meadmore, Flippant Fury, 1977-1978 © Clement Meadmore/ARS. Licensed by Copyright Agency; Guan Wei, Revisionary, 1998 © Guan Wei; Kimsooja, Archive of mind, 2017 © Kimsooja; Rosalie Gascoigne, Metropolis, 1999 © Rosalie Gascoigne. Licensed by Copyright Agency; Sir Richard Long, Southern gravity, 2011 © Richard Long; Imants Tillers, Counting: one, two, three, 1988 © Imants Tillers

Arup’s structural engineers worked with the design team to carefully model and determine the placement of part of the structure over the bridge without the need for strengthening and the cost and delay associated with major arterial road closures and access. Detailed investigation, assessments, and analysis of the existing WWII naval fuel bunker structure built in the early 1940s minimised the need for strengthening of elements within it, avoiding intrusive strengthening within the space and maintaining the integrity and nature of the original construction as part of displaying the history and construction to the next generation.

This project tackles an extremely complex site and client brief. Adjacent to Sydney Harbour and the Royal Botanic Garden and filled with history, much of the new building is to be supported by existing infrastructure and heritage structure, and with the refined and unique architecture of SANAA. ” Andrew Johnson Andrew Johnson Principal

The structural solutions further develop and extend the history and vernacular of SANAA’s architecture – very lean yet scaled to the requirements of larger gallery spaces.  Significant time, effort, and detailed analysis was expended on the pavilion structures to minimise column sizes within the space and eliminate bracing in the entry canopy and pavilions.  Non-linear time history analysis was undertaken to verify the seismic performance of the fully integrated chain of pavilions that step up the hill and further verify the sway columns.   

With much of the structure being visible, there was a strong architectural intent to make it as elegant and clean as possible, ensuring the artwork is celebrated rather than overpowered. Our structural engineers worked closely with SANAA and Architectus to ensure the visual elements of the structure achieved high quality aspirations. Connections were designed to be visually subtle and clean, and structural arrangements and load paths simple and direct wherever possible.

Our transformed institution will represent Sydney’s bold spirit as a leading 21st-century art museum with a deep commitment to both Australian and international art. ” Dr Michael Brand Director, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Arup’s hydraulics’ team developed a new water balance calculation tool to produce a site wide water balance, a contributing factor to the gallery being awarded a 6 Star Green Star design rating – a first for Australian public art museums. The team also used 3D virtual reality technology to map the new building to ensure services were integrated in the architectural background. Providing renders throughout the design stage to assist in the reflected ceiling plan resulted in the services having a minimal aesthetic impact on the galleries.

The unique but complex architectural form of the multiple roofs of the Sydney Modern Project required a sophisticated solution for the roof drainage design. Arup’s hydraulic team worked closely with SANAA to fulfil their design aspirations and to also maximise the roofs' ability to harvest rainwater. ” Engineer Jake Cherniayeff Jake Cherniayeff Senior Business Services Engineer

Sydney Modern Project architectural flythrough. Courtesy Art Gallery of NSW
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