Parramatta Powerhouse given the green light

The $800 million relocation of the Powerhouse from its historic site in inner-Sydney Ultimo to Parramatta has been given the green light.

The project, set to become the largest cultural investment in New South Wales since the Sydney Opera House, will include over 18,000sq m of exhibition and public spaces which is anticipated to draw upwards of two million visitors each year. The project has been designed by Paris-based Moreau Kusunoki and local firm Genton, under a consortium nicknamed MKG.

Their design will take shape on the banks of the Parramatta River, about 24 kilometres west of the Sydney CBD, and be central to the much-hyped Powerhouse Precinct, which local and state governments hope will transform Parramatta into a 24-hour cultural hub.

“Powerhouse Parramatta will deliver dynamic exhibition, education and community programs that will bring cultural and scientific leaders from around the world and across Australia into Parramatta,” Powerhouse chief executive Lisa Havilah said. “We are excited to be embarking on building an internationally significant museum that will connect young people and communities with our Collections and tell stories of ingenuity and innovation.”▲ Renders of the light-filled Powerhouse, where 70 per cent of the site is public space to accommodate performing arts festivals and community events.

Once realised the gallery will be the largest of its kind in NSW and will feature a 30-metre wide domed planetarium complete with ultra-high resolution 3D video and audio. Plans also include 1.5 hectares of public open space and a 30% tree canopy cover to provide shade, as well as a new public walkway which will connect the museum to trains, a new underground metro, light rail, “eat street” and the river.

The new Bankwest Stadium and proposed $100 million redevelopment of the Riverside Theatres, as well as the Western Sydney Parklands, will all integral to the development and part of Premier Berejiklian’s “30-minute cities” concept.

It will also include 60 creative residential studios expected to attract researchers, scientists and creatives.

Planning minister Rob Stokes approved to the Powerhouse Parramatta development naming 188 conditions of planning consent.

The approved project, which will break ground in the coming weeks, has not been without its contention.

The state government’s decision to move Powerhouse to Parramatta led to a vigorous debate across the arts sector after then premier Mike Baird announced the plan during the NSW election campaign in 2015.

The suggested move caused so much anger that a NSW Upper House inquiry recommended the existing Powerhouse be revitalised and a new institution built in Parramatta.

The project’s design competition in 2019 sparked its own controversy after a group of Australian architects penned a letter against pursuing big-name global firms on projects.

A total of 1,300 submissions were also lodged during the exhibition of the project’s environmental impact statement, the majority opposed to the demolition of the 19th-century mansion known as Willow Grove on site.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and arts minister Don Harwin will now push forward with the new development on the banks of the Parramatta River, with an expected opening date scheduled for 2023.

Planning approval was granted pending careful selection of an “appropriate setting” for the reuse and relocation of Willow Grove.

Written: 22 February 2021

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