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AL_A one of six finalists in Sydney Powerhouse Museum contest

The contest site
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Amanda Levete’s practice AL_A is among the six teams shortlisted to design the new Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, a £218 million applied arts and science museum

AL_A, partnered with local practice Architectus, is competing against Bernardes Architecture of Brazil with Scale Architecture of Australia; and BVN Architecture of Australia with Italy’s Carlo Ratti Associati.

The shortlist is completed by US-based Steven Holl Architects with Brisbane-based Conrad Gargett; Moreau Kusunoki of France with Genton of Australia; and Australian duo CHROFI and Reko Rennie. The finalists were selected from more than 74 team entries.

The two-stage international competition, organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, will select an ‘outstanding, world-class’ team to deliver the landmark development within the city’s Parramatta suburb.

The 18,000m² project 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. It is backed by the government of New South Wales. 

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: ‘The Powerhouse Precinct will set a new benchmark in cultural placemaking for Greater Sydney and will be a symbol of a new approach to creative activity and engagement. The design will honour MAAS’s extraordinary and rich collection, providing a platform for constantly changing exhibitions and immersive experiences.

‘The Powerhouse Precinct in Parramatta will be the sixth time that the Powerhouse has moved and transformed in response to the needs of a changing city. This new chapter will carry forward the legacy of the 140-year-old institution by creating a place that is welcoming and inclusive of the diverse communities of Greater Sydney.’

New South Wales minister for the arts Don Harwin said: ‘Having attracted 74 expressions of interest involving a staggering 529 individual firms from 20 countries, the level of global interest we received has more than justified our excitement in moving forward with this Western Sydney project.

‘I am particularly thrilled to see our finalist teams include Australian lead firms, collaborations between emerging and seasoned practices and between Australian and international talent who have been inspired by the opportunity this bold and exciting project offers.’

The finalists will now receive around £80,000 each to participate in the competition’s second phase. No concept designs were required during the competition’s first phase; competitors were instead required to deliver ‘submissions based on an outline response to the project brief’.

The high-profile shortlisting comes four years after AL_A completed a ‘Serpentine Pavilion-inspired’ MPavilion in Melbourne, Australia. The practice’s designs harnessed nautical engineering technology to create the impression of a forest canopy.

Judges for the latest contest include Naomi Milgrom, whose Naomi Milgrom Foundation commissions the annual MPavilion, and David Gianotten of OMA.

Commenting on the shortlist, Milgrom said: ‘This project’s success depends on having faith in creative talent and we achieved our aim: a shortlist strong in fascinating and new collaborations that showed the project’s Australian and international reach.

‘The responses showed a deep interest in the project and its unique promise for the future.’

An overall winner will be announced in the second half of this year. 

The full shortlist

  • AL_A (UK) and Architectus (Australia)
  • Bernardes Architecture (Brazil) and Scale Architecture (Australia)
  • BVN Architecture (Australia) and Carlo Ratti Associati (Italy)
  • CHROFI (Australia) with Reko Rennie (Australia)
  • Moreau Kusunoki (France) and Genton (Australia)
  • Steven Holl Architects (United States) and Conrad Gargett (Australia)
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