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Competition: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

Malcolm Reading Consultants has launched an open international contest to design a AUD $400 million applied arts and science museum in Parramatta, Sydney (Deadline: 18 March)

The two-stage competition is looking for an ‘outstanding, world-class’ team to deliver the landmark development within the suburb.

The 18,000m² project – backed by the government of New South Wales – will create a 24-hour home for the Powerhouse Museum, which is currently based in central Sydney. It will also include a planetarium and learning space for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

The contest site

The contest site

Source: Image by MRC / Dianna Snape

The contest site

Founded in 1879, the Powerhouse Museum is a major collection of 500,000 objects relating to science and industry. The organisation has been based in Sydney’s Ultimo district since 1988 and is part of New South Wales’s larger Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS).

MAAS chief executive Lisa Havilah said: ‘This is a transformative time for arts and culture in Australia. This next chapter builds upon the museum’s rich history. The Powerhouse Precinct at Parramatta is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a renewed museum.’

New South Wales minister for the arts Don Harwin said a purpose-built Powerhouse Precinct at Parramatta would ‘welcome people from across the world and New South Wales. We are looking for the best designers from across New South Wales, Australia and internationally to create this new cultural landmark in Parramatta.’

Participating teams must demonstrate ‘capability as a lead architect’ on a comparable built project of at least AUD $200M or ability to deliver a ‘buildable, memorable facility exemplifying design excellence’ valued at AUD $400M.

The competition will shortlist up to five teams, who will receive AUD $150,000 each to participate in the competition’s second phase. Shortlisted designs will feature in a public exhibition and online during which the public will be invited to share responses.

The contest is open to both domestic and international teams and has been endorsed by the Australian Institute of Architects. Judges include Naomi Milgrom whose Naomi Milgrom Foundation commissions Melbourne’s annual MPavilion and David Gianotten of OMA. An overall winner will be announced in the second half of this year. 

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 11am GMT, 18 March

Contact details

Jayne Broomhall
Malcolm Reading Consultants
8 Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Tel: + 44 (0)20 7831 2998

Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Craig A Limkin

The executive director of Create Infrastructure NSW discusses his ambitions for the competition

Craig A Limkin

Craig A Limkin

Source: Image by Katie Jane Photography

Craig A Limkin

Why are you holding an international design contest for a new Powerhouse Precinct at Parramatta?

Well-designed cultural infrastructure has a catalytic effect on place. When supported by other uses and transport links, it anchors urban renewal and regeneration processes, attracting business and investment. It can transform the functionality of a place and foster a new identity and character (or acknowledge the existing and historical identity and character) that attracts people and activity.

Good design is not just about individual buildings but how these buildings contribute to and integrate into their surroundings. International trends bring together cultural spaces with public spaces, creative industries, tourist attractions and education facilities to create clusters.

As the Powerhouse Precinct at Parramatta will be a new home for the collection of MAAS, which has at its core design and architecture, it would be a missed opportunity for the people of Western Sydney and Australia if we did not create a distinctive architectural statement.

The resulting museum in Western Sydney will be the largest in NSW, and whether local or international, our competition aims to find the world-class architectural team that will deliver a truly distinctive architectural statement and a new global landmark, home to the incredible MAAS collection.

Through the project, my team at Create NSW is working closely with MAAS and other government agencies to deliver our aims for the project. We’re absolutely thrilled that entrepreneur Naomi Milgrom has agreed to join us as independent jury chair, amongst a list of highly experienced jury members that we will be announcing in full very soon.

The contest site

The contest site

Source: Image by Salty Dingo

The contest site

What is your vision for the new museum?

The Sydney Opera House still captures and inspires global imagination – its iconic design, which blends arts and technology, symbolises Sydney’s confidence as a modern international city. With Parramatta undergoing a huge transformation to become the ‘Central River City’ – a key element of the Greater Sydney Commission’s plan ‘A Metropolis of Three Cities’ – the museum will be the heart of this transformation.

My hope is that the new museum will sit in perfect harmony with the landscape, humbly acknowledging how it sits on an ancient and sacred land, and be a visionary project that will have a profound impact on Australia and New South Wales.

I hope the museum is a testament to the power of cultural infrastructure in shaping our identity, making us feel that we belong, and reflecting our stories. The museum’s ongoing legacy will help us all imagine our futures and push us to pursue our aspirations.

There is a great opportunity to draw from the museum’s world-renowned collection of more than 500,000 objects and bring this to a much wider audience while engaging local communities, reflective of the diverse cultures of Parramatta and NSW, including Australia’s First Nations peoples.

Parramatta skyline

Parramatta skyline

Source: Image by Mark Merton Photography

Parramatta skyline

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We are encouraging multidisciplinary collaborations between established and emerging talent, as well as single established practices. International teams will need to partner with an Australian practice to meet local registration requirements, but there is no obligation for Australian firms to partner with international firms for the competition.

The competition is open to all registered architects who can demonstrate the eligibility criteria set out in the competition documents, and we strongly encourage creative collaborations, which have been shown to be an effective way to make successful cultural places.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

The NSW Government will soon release a Cultural Infrastructure Plan outlining the potential for a wide range of cultural infrastructure projects to be rolled out in years ahead throughout the State.

Create NSW is currently managing signature projects that have offered unique challenges for architects and designers we work with. Looking ahead, future projects will each embody their own particular challenges, for which we will seek the best design talent to work with us.

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