A Transformed Australian Museum Reopens to the Public
Sydney has a new civic space because of Project Discover, which has transformed the heritage buildings of the Australian Museum into a modern, open and light-filled civic space for all to enjoy. The design of Project Discover was led by COX Architecture and Neeson Murcutt + Neille, the firm behind the award-winning Brian Sherman Crystal Hall. Kane Constructions, who collaborated with Neeson Murcutt + Neille to build Brian Sherman Crystal Hall, managed the build of Project Discover.
The AM reopens to the public on Saturday 28 November after the building redevelopment, which has unlocked more than 3,000sqm of new public space, repurposed from back-of-house areas. The transformation significantly expands the AM’s touring exhibition hall from 850sqm to 1500sqm, allowing the AM to host one major international travelling exhibition or two smaller exhibitions at the same time.
“The Australian Museum team is excited about Project Discover and the future of the Museum. Having served the community for nearly 200 years, we look forward to welcoming visitors back to enjoy the new spaces as often as they’d like by offering free general admission as part of our reopening. The transformation of our heritage buildings through Project Discover turns the page to the next exciting chapter for this important institution,” said Kim McKay AO, Director and CEO of the Australian Museum
Abbie Galvin, NSW Government Architect
Project Discover heralds a new era for the Australian Museum as it transforms its existing spaces into more integrated, seamless areas which will enable the Museum to exhibit in a 21st century way – engaging a broader cross section of society. The Australian Museum is a public building and its transformation through Project Discover improves the public and the civic life of the city
“As Australia’s first museum, the Australian Museum is unique. We want to invite visitors to not only see it from its exquisite exterior, but we also want them to experience all it has to offer from the inside. Through Project Discover, we have reimagined the heritage buildings of this iconic institution into a contemporary, new, civic space for the people of NSW, Australia and the region, to enjoy. This includes the creation of the expanded Crystal Hall entrance pavilion adjacent new AM Store, as well as the new education corridor with dedicated education rooms and amenities,” said Rachel Neeson, architect at Neeson Murcutt + Neille.
“This was a complex project that would not have been possible without the power of collaboration. Working with the Australian Museum team, COX Architecture and Kane Constructions to complete this phase of the Australian Museum’s transformation was truly a pleasure,” said Neeson.
COX Director, Joe Agius
The revitalisation of the Australian Museum through Project Discover adds to the public life of Sydney in a positive way. The main outcome of Project Discover was to make the Museum more accessible and one of the great ways we’ve done this is through the new heart of the Museum, the Grand Hall, which serves as a public space and shows the evolution of the Museum through time
“Project Discover has also added amenities of international standing to the heritage buildings of the Australian Museum. The new, functional configuration includes the European model of cloaking and amenities on the lower ground level. We also connected the Museum vertically through the pivotal and strategic architectural move of adding a central Escher staircase, ramping system around the shop and installation of escalators that provide seamless transition between the Grand Hall and Basement Touring Exhibition Hall two levels below,” Agius said.
The AM remained committed to sustainable practices throughout Project Discover and is reopening as the first natural history museum to be Climate Active Carbon Neutral certified. A construction waste strategy was implemented, where materials such as timber were recycled in the new exhibition spaces, helping achieve a more than 90% diversion from landfill for all demolition waste. Through Project Discover, accessibility has been improved across the AM by removing uneven floors and creating seamless wayfinding.
Established in 1827 by Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, the AM is Australia’s oldest museum and celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2027. In 1845, funds were approved for construction of a two-story building with a north and a west wing on the corner of William and College Streets, designed by Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis. The foundations for the AM were laid in January 1846 and the Long Gallery was completed in 1850 when the roof was finally finished. It opened to the public in May 1857.
The reopening of the transformed AM marks the first step in the realisation of the AM’s vision for the future. New interactive education areas, an expanded Pacific spirit gallery and a new minerals gallery are all planned as part of the second phase of Project Discover, expected to be completed over the next few years.