Powerhouse Museum’s Ultimo site to be upgraded with fashion, design focus

Artist's impression of the revamped Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo. Image: supplied.


The NSW Government has announced plans for the future of the Powerhouse Museum’s site at Ultimo, with a complete renewal of the facility to begin imminently.

The upcoming state budget – to be handed down next Tuesday, 22 June – will commit $500 million to get the project off the ground, the government said today.

The Powerhouse is set to operate across two locations: the existing Ultimo site and the previously announced new site at Parramatta.

Formerly, the entire museum was set to move to Parramatta – but those plans have since been scuttled.

NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin said in a media release today the decision to renew the Ultimo site came after extensive community consultation. 

“We’ve heard from people who have great affection for this place, we’ve listened to the community for a year-long consultation process,” Mr Harwin said.

“This year’s state budget will include the first tranch that is needed to cover the complete renewal of the Powerhouse Ultimo.”

The announcement comes after the government backflipped on its plan to sell the site to apartment developers, following a community outcry.

Speaking on this morning’s Ben Fordham Live program on Radio 2GB, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet defended the backflip, saying the decision would benefit both Central Sydney and Western Sydney. 

“When it comes to the current museum, we should have the very best cultural offerings in the CBD and in Parramatta as well,” Mr Perrottet said.

“We’re committed to building the best museum we can in Parramatta and also ensuring that our cultural offerings in the CBD are first class.”

A design competition for the renewal project will now be held. 

The Sentinel understands the museum’s heritage halls and the main Wran Building, built in 1988 – which won the Sir John Sulman Medal for architecture – will be retained, while a new gallery, workshop and studio spaces will be built.

Powerhouse Museum Trust President, Peter Collins AM QC, said: “Over the past three decades, the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo has inspired thousands of visitors with one of the world’s most important collections across applied arts and sciences.

“Just like the V&A in London and Smithsonian in the US, whose vast and multidisciplinary collections create incredible experiences for visitors the world over,” he said.

“This renewal will pave the way for generations to come to experience even more of our 500,000 strong collection through Australia’s leading museum of design and fashion in Ultimo and the new home of science and technology at our flagship, Powerhouse Parramatta.”

The Powerhouse Museum is the major branch of Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, the others being the historic Sydney Observatory at Observatory Hill, and the newer Museums Discovery Centre at Castle Hill.

Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.