Australian Museum Reveals its Future Plans

Saturday 3 December 2016, Sydney, Australia: The Australian Museum’s master plan, submitted this week to the NSW Government, encompasses a bold vision for a world-leading natural history and culture museum, literally turning the museum “inside-out” with as much as 20% of its renowned collection on display.

Named barrabuwari muru, meaning ‘future path’ in Sydney’s indigenous language, the master plan sets the course for the 190 year old Australian Museum to reclaim its place as a museum of international standing, opening more of its historic site to the public and showcasing more of its collection of over 18 million objects. Museums typically display around only 1% of their collections.

The vision for the future museum aims to lift annual visitation to 1.5 million and includes a new multi-storey building on the AM’s eastern quarter on the corner of William and Yurong Streets, which will also extend over the top of some of the existing structures, while recognising the heritage of the historic site.

“The Australian Museum’s extraordinary collection establishes it as one the world’s great museums, but it has been held back by the restrictions of its existing floor space and a history of buildings being added over time,” Kim McKay AO, Director and CEO of the AM said.

“Currently the AM’s public floor space is constrained at just 6,500 square metres, whereas most world-class museums have more than 20,000 square metres dedicated to galleries and public use. Our plan is to triple our public floor space.

“We are fortunate to have our own 2,700 square metre development site and this will enable the AM to build a new large temporary exhibition space attracting major international blockbusters, allowing Sydney to compete on a global stage, as well as showcase our Pacific Collection, regarded as the finest in the world, alongside our extensive Aboriginal collection,” McKay said.

The barrabuwari muru master plan has been submitted to the NSW Government for consideration as part of the State Cultural Infrastructure Strategy, and details plans for a proposed $250 million redevelopment, with a further $35 million contributed from other sources.

In addition to providing more space to display the AM’s extensive collection, the master plan’s vision includes:

  • A Grand Hall at the centre of the site, more than 70 metres long surrounded by historic sandstone walls and accommodating up to 2,000 people – larger than the iconic Hintze Hall in the National History Museum of London.
  • An Indigenous and Pacific Cultural Centre, where culture will be celebrated and researched at the highest level, alongside the scientific research of the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI).
  • Increased educational and community facilities including specialised STEM learning spaces and a new theatre
  • State-of-the-art DNA labs to expand the work of AMRI and the AM’s Wildlife Genomics team.

Funded by a $4.7 million grant from the State government in 2014, the master plan has been the result of comprehensive research undertaken with consultants Deloitte and architects Hames Sharley, and considers the opportunities and needs for the AM to continue to meet audience demand into the future.

“Next year, the Australian Museum celebrates190 years,” McKay said. “As Australia’s first museum we have reached a point where we need to grow in order to continue our leading work in scientific research, STEM education and creating world-class exhibitions for Australians and visitors alike.”

“With the anticipated increase in tourism in NSW, as well as residential growth in Sydney, the Australian Museum will play a critical role in not only explaining Australia’s natural science history but also our Indigenous and Pacific Island cultures.”

Once the master plan is considered for approval and funding by the Government, the next stage is for the AM to hold an international architecture competition for the new building design, to ensure design excellence.

“As we own the site, and if funding is made available, the AM can start construction as early as 2018 with a view to opening the new facility by 2022,” McKay said.

“If we are to accommodate 1.5 million visitors and school children annually, the sustainability of this national icon depends on the future growth outlined in the master plan.”
In preparation for the barrabuwari muru master plan, the Australian Museum has commenced an extensive transformation program to upgrade existing facilities, including:

  • building the award-winning Crystal Hall accessible entrance on William Street, opened in 2015
  • the new Wild Planet gallery, the AM’s first new permanent gallery space in 50 years, opened in 2015
  • the new First Australians Galleries featuring two new permanent exhibitions – Garrigarrang: Sea Country and Bayala Nura: Yarning Country, opened in 2015
  • the new Pacific Spirit Gallery, opened in 2015, providing a window into the AM’s extraordinary Pacific collection.
  • a new museum rooftop restaurant on level four, No. 1 William, opened in 2016
  • the restoration of the heritage Long Gallery – Australia’s first museum gallery – reopening as the Westpac Long Gallery in late 2017, showcasing 200 Treasures of the Australian Museum.