It's been more than three years since Pritzker Prize-winning architects SANAA won the contract to design the Sydney Modern project – the Art Gallery of New South Wales' $344 million expansion, branching off from the original gallery building with a series of major new exhibition spaces – and now we finally have a better sense of what it'll be like to visit the gallery when it finally opens.
Even more exciting – the project has finally got planning approval and there's a timeline locked in. Construction is due to begin early next year, and Sydney Modern will open in 2021 to coincide with the gallery's 150th anniversary.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a number of changes have been made to the original design to get approval on a project that's been pretty controversial at times (even Paul Keating had a typically colourful spray about the plans). The façade of the expansion will be changed from its original cool whites and greys to a warmer natural stone colour that's closer to the original sandstone building, and the gallery has agreed to increase green space and ensure that 65 per cent of the site (formerly parklands in the Domain) will remain publicly accessible 24 hours a day.
The project will almost double its available exhibition space, so the gallery is hoping it will increase annual visitor numbers from last year's 1.35 million to 2 million. That would see the gallery skyrocket from 48th most visited art gallery in the world to 31st, and put it not too far behind Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria, which is currently attracting around 2.5 million annually.
The budget for Sydney Modern is $344 million (although as with most new public buildings in Sydney, we'll believe that figure when we actually walk through the front doors) funded through a mix of private and public money. The NSW Government has stumped up $244 million and the gallery has almost reached its $100 million target from private donations.
But what's actually included in the new gallery?
There'll be a strong focus on the gallery's impressive collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, which is currently a little bit hidden in a gallery at the very bottom of the building. There'll also be a major exhibition space, new educational spaces and – the thing we find most cool – a contemporary gallery space built inside a huge decommissioned WWII oil tank.