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It’s more than just a simple refurbishment: the Art Gallery of New South Wales unveils its greatly anticipated Sydney Modern Project. There is much to see in the new space, but it’s the beautiful, fully sustainable building that is drawing all the attention.

Tucked in a quiet corner of the Domain, in the middle of Gadigal Country overlooking Sydney Harbour, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is, like the parklands that surround it, an oasis at the heart of the busy bustle of city life. The sandstone façade of Vernon’s building provides a sense of solemnity similar to that of London’s National Gallery, but with Ionic columns instead of its British counterpart’s Corinthian. That is to say, still classical, but less pompous. 

 The city’s landmark unveils its new modern expansion this Saturday, December 3, lauded as the most significant cultural development to open in Sydney since the Opera House became the de facto symbol of the city. A new building, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of Tokyo firm SANAA, connects with the old one through a public art garden to create a new art museum campus open to all visitors.  

The architects’ goal was to create a museum that connected with its surroundings. Their design uses all its privileged locations to offer different sightlines: towards the parklands, the harbour, and the towering urban background. “We hope it will be a special place where visitors feel connected to art wherever they are in this beautiful setting,” the duo said. 

Art Gallery of New South Wales director Michael Brand comments: “Our vision has been to transform the Art Gallery into an art museum campus with seamless connections between art, architecture and landscape.” 

Now three limestone-clad buildings facing Sydney Harbour fuse seamlessly with more than 3400 square metres of accessible roof ‘art terraces’ and courtyards, all of this surrounded by an enhanced landscape with over 50,000 plants and 70 per cent more trees than existed on the site before construction. 

The fully sustainable building is Australia’s first public art museum to achieve a 6-star design rating.

Visiting the new area ahead of opening the doors to the public, NSW Premier Domenic Perrottet said, “The Art Gallery will shortly open the doors of the stunning, expanded and enhanced public institution to people from across New South Wales, Australia and the world”. 

To complete the over $340 million project, the Art Gallery raised more than $100 million from private donors and received $244 million of NSW Government funding. This is the largest government-philanthropic arts partnership to be achieved in Australia. 

“Central to every decision made in the development and design of this project,” Perrottet says, “has been an unwavering focus on supporting access to the art of a world-leading standard, education opportunity without limit and community enrichment with tangible benefit.”  

The fully sustainable building is Australia’s first public art museum to achieve a 6-star design rating. All of the building’s energy consumption will be provided for by renewable energy, including over 10% from solar panels on the roof of the Entrance Pavillion. 

From December 3, there is a free program of exhibitions, collections and works by more than 900 artists, local and international. Over 15,000 people have already registered to visit the new art campus on its opening weekend.   

The celebrations will continue throughout the following week, with the Art Gallery open every day until 10pm to host free opening celebrations, including a pop concert by Ellie Goulding with the support of Australian artists Meg Mac and Electric Fields, a nightly drone show over Woolloomooloo Bay by Kamilaroi artist Reko Rennie, and other special events. 

To start the proceedings, three new exhibitions will launch the upgraded space. Argentinian sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas’s exclusive new collection merges light and darkness in the new subterranean space, The Tank. Making World is a collection of contemporary art from the Art Gallery’s collection. And finally, Dreamhome: Stories of Art and Shelter is an exhibition where 29 artists from around the world explore their idea of home. 

To see what’s coming up, and reserve your tickets, visit