Powerhouse development plans condemned by public: ‘Glorified function center’

The site consists of a cluster of landmark buildings that made up the Ultimo Power Station and the old post office, united by a vaulted gallery on Harris Street, which was built during the same era as Darling Harbor and the National Maritime Museum.

Design guidelines now on public exhibitions do not adequately protect the fabric of these additions, collectively known as the Wran Building, which are of great significance to the NSW architectural profession, according to the NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects.

The Institute said the 1988 redevelopment was one of the most successful and renowned adaptive reuse projects in Australia, setting an international benchmark for a museum of this type and a fine example of NSW public architecture in the postmodern style.

The City of Sydney supported the Powerhouse’s refurbishment as a world-class museum and improved pedestrian access, but the use of maximum heights could negatively impact the Powerhouse Museum’s heritage value, its surroundings and views.

Artistic impression of the visual impact of the maximum building envelope proposed for architects exploring the Powerhouse Museum site in Ultimo.Credit:From EIS, Planning Department

Heritage impact statements and the Conservation Management Plan downplayed the architectural significance of the Wran building. Indeed, there was so much confusion between heritage, urban planning and architectural guidelines that it would have been preferable for them to be redrafted and re-exhibited for public comment, City of Sydney planners said.

A ten-foot kickback from a new outbuilding in Harris Street’s forecourt, if not maintained on the upper floors, could result in an overhang not in keeping with the existing streetscape, the council said.

Kris Leveson and Karen Henoch-Ryugo of another local community group, Ultimo Village Voice, said a reoriented Powerhouse with a public entrance across from Haymarket would turn its back on the people of Ultimo and the outback, reflecting ideas of a very walkable villageā€ air bike”.


The director of the Sydney Living Museums, Adam Lindsay, supported the renewal: “In our experience, adaptive reuse of built heritage and open forms can be done very successfully, and with care, creativity and consultation.”

But former president and museum administrator Nicholas Pappas said the renovation project was “essentially nothing more than the unjustified and catastrophic destruction of a much-loved and award-winning public building and cultural institution.”

Grace Cochrane of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance said the award-winning gallery and Wran building were destined for demolition.

“It looks like the museum is turning into a nightlife center, with the collection being secondary and some of the important buildings being demolished,” she said.

The Ministry of Planning will consider public feedback before finalizing the project guidelines.

A cultural guide to going out and loving your city. Sign up here for our Culture Fix newsletter.

Leave a Comment