The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is reopening this week on Thursday 29 March after almost two years of works and AUD$53m spent for the redevelopment. The project is the result of a collaboration between the Sydney-based studio Sam Marshall Architect and the New South Wales Government Architect’s Office.
The new project, with its 4,500 sq m increase almost doubling the size of the existing museum, is destined to become the major cultural centre for contemporary art and education in the city. The museum building was originally designed by Government architect W.H. Whithers in 1939 and was completed in 1952.
The museum is located in Circular Quay in the spectacular frame of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and, like many of the art galleries opened in the last few years, will give residents a lot to talk about. When the project was first proposed the Sydney Morning Herald described it as a ‘Rubik’s Cube’ and was critical of the design, suggesting that the new form was too different from the original volume.
I had the opportunity to speak to the architect, Sam Marshall, and asked him: You said that your project is intentionally different from the building on the side, but what is the link that connects the two volumes?
“The new building takes a lot of queues from the old building but then puts them in place is a different way. The old building is a series of big boxes as is the new, but the very strong by symmetry of the old which intentionally expressed the might of the previous building owner, is random in the new to express an institution that is inclusive and creative. The old building is small pieces of natural stone while the new is natural but huge panels of precast glass reinforced concrete. The old has traditional windows as holes in walls whereas the new allows views into and out of the building by pushing and pulling the volumes apart. There are many more such correlations.”
Actually I think that the discussion about the contrast between the old and new sections is a little bit dull and reduces the problem of the architecture to just the shape of the building, especially in a city like Sydney where the best architecture is born from experimentation. What could be a better example of architecture if not the close neighbour of the MCA, the Opera House?
That does not mean having to justify every kind of project but simply focusing the attention in the city where we are working. Even if Australia has always been very influenced by Europe, we do not forget that the background is still different and the weight represented from the architectural heritage is not the same.
Hopefully the new opening could give better cues of analysis of the project such as how the people use the space, the flexibility of the space to housing different kinds of exhibition and if the building has successfully fulfilled the brief.
Next weekend, to celebrate the official opening, the museum is going to organise a series of workshops, performances and lectures. Furthermore new exhibitions are going to open their doors, such as Marking Time with the works of 11 Australian and international artists, The Clock by Christian Marklay and for the first time. The MCA also dedicates an entire floor to a permanent exhibition by more than 170 Australian artists in Volume One: MCA Collection.