A look at the newly-transformed Australian Museum – Neeson Murcutt + Neille

After 15 months of significant transformation, Australia’s oldest museum and Sydney’s heritage landmark, the Australian Museum, has reopened its doors to the public last November 2020.

The first phase of renovation – dubbed as Project Discover – was driven by the design thinking of COX Architecture and Neeson Murcutt + Neille, the firm behind the award-winning Brian Sherman Crystal Hall. The top-to-bottom makeover includes over 3,000 square metres of new public spaces.

The project has added NOMI’s Time Table and Jasny Chair to one of the civic spaces of the museum. The refined modesty of the Time Table along with the comfort and flexibility of the Jasny Chair help create an open, social space while preserving a contemporary aesthetic. These original designs made using only sustainably harvested FSC timber, find a new home at one of Australia’s most iconic locales.

We spoke to Nicholas Gonsalves and Rachel Neeson of Neeson Murcutt + Neille to find out more about this historic project. 

What is your design philosophy?

Project Discover is architecture as archaeology! The Australian Museum required 1500 sqm of new exhibition spaces to host ‘blockbuster’ touring exhibitions, and facilities to accommodate the anticipated increased volume of visitors. We found these spaces by strategically removing parts of the existing building, making it more open, more accessible, and more legible while revealing the Museum’s rich historic layering. We uncovered a new civic heart for the Museum – the Hintze Hall – that people can arrive to and orientate themselves within. It is a wonderful new public space for Sydney, and an event space for the Museum.

 

How does it feel to work on the transformation of the Australian Museum?

It is both an incredible privilege and significant responsibility to work on such an important civic project, and a delight to see the public enjoying the outcome. 

Tell us about your inspiration for Project Discover. What elements and factors did you consider when designing this space?

The Australian Museum is Australia’s oldest museum. This is really something to celebrate by revealing as much heritage fabric as possible – revealing previously concealed sandstone; making the oldest parts of the building publicly accessible for the first time; repurposing original brass balustrades, recycling timber floorboards; and enhancing the Museum’s engagement with William Street – it’s original frontage. 

 

How did you decide on the furniture pieces that you added to this project? 

The new Hintze Hall has a beautiful new timber ‘pavement’ floor that alludes to the history of the space as a former external court. The space is surrounded by the revealed sandstone facades of the original heritage buildings. Timber was selected for the floor and also the café furniture to bring warmth to the space, working tonally with the revealed sandstone. The furniture was selected to be robust and flexible, allowing multiple uses of the space.  

 

We’re thrilled to see you’ve incorporated some NOMI items into this project. What made you decide to select these items for Project Discover? 

The Australian Museum supports Australian design. Nomi was a natural choice!

Project               Australian Museum

Year                    2020

Architect           Neeson Murcutt + Neille and COX Architecture 

Photography    Brett Boardman

Jasny Chair      Designed by Stephanie Jasny

Time Table       Designed by Tomek Archer


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