Sydney Modern Project approved as critics appeased
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Sydney Modern Project approved as critics appeased

Excavation work will begin within months on the $344 million Sydney Modern expansion to the Art Gallery of NSW after the Berejiklian government granted final planning approval.

The series of pavilions to be built opposite the Royal Botanic Garden and cascading to Woolloomooloo will almost double the gallery's exhibition space when completed in 2021 in time for the 150th anniversary of the gallery's founding in 1871, and the 100th anniversary of the Archibald Prize.

Sydney Modern Project as approved.

Sydney Modern Project as approved.Credit:SANAA

Development approval for the Sydney Modern Project comes as the gallery's campaign to raise from private donors $100 million of the $344 million costs is said to be close to reaching its target.

Key to development consent is refinements to the original 2017 design by Japanese architects from the awarding winning firm SANAA, including a commitment to increase public open green space and that 65 per cent of the site remain publicly accessible at all hours.

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Opponents of the development had worried about the loss of open public space in the Domain, lack of setback and visual prominence.

The art gallery has committed to planting double the number of trees that will need to be removed as a result of the new building work, and the external facades will be changed to warm-toned natural stone to complement the sandstone façade of the existing building and the landscape setting of the Domain.

The roofline of the canopy structure at the entrance has been rotated to reduce the visual impact of the new building from Art Gallery Road and the Royal Botanic Garden’s Woolloomooloo Gate to appease critics.

The gallery has also agreed to change traffic arrangements along Art Gallery Road to improve vehicle and pedestrian access.

Approval has been determined by the Department of Planning and welcomed by Arts Minister Don Harwin as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to increase gallery visitation to an expected two million people a year. The project had been assessed to inject over $1 billion into the NSW economy over 25 years, Mr Harwin said.

The repurposed oil tankers.

The repurposed oil tankers.Credit:SANAA

Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand said the project’s planning approval was a green light for ''art, artists and audiences'', transforming the institution into a ''leading 21st-century art museum with a deep commitment to both Australian and international art''.

He said Sydney Modern Project was the largest public-private partnership of its kind in the Australian arts.

The project had been awarded a six-star Green Star design rating, the only art museum to meet these environmental standards in Australia, he said.

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A public art garden featuring art commissions from national and international artists will
connect the gallery’s new and existing buildings.

The expanded gallery will prominently display Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and include a large gallery for major exhibitions, a contemporary art space repurposed from a decommissioned WWII oil tank and spaces for family, learning and educational programming.

The gallery will remain open as work begins. Conditions of approval governing construction, heritage, environment and transport are to be released Wednesday morning.

Linda Morris is an arts and books writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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