New NGV Contemporary design released

Rhonda Dredge

The release of the design for the new NGV Contemporary in Southbank has everyone making comparisons with other world-class galleries such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

The Australian-designed architectural statement at Southbank will include arched entries and an expansive rooftop terrace with views of Melbourne’s CBD, parklands and beyond to the Yarra Ranges.

But will the design be heroic enough for its critics? Even though the selected architects are Australian, Victorian architects were also in contention.

The winning design by NSW firm Angelo Candalepas and Associates will include 13,000 square metres of display space, crowned with a rooftop sculpture terrace and restaurant.

The issue for many observers of gallery design, however, is how does the interior marry with the exterior to provide glimpses from both of what the other holds in store?

The famous Guggenheim is wonderful in this regard whereas the NGV Contemporary, while having a grand arched entry, seems to be uncertain about how the world and art will intermix.

The details have yet to be mapped out, but Candalepas and Associates will lead a collective of 20 Victorian and Australian-based firms with expertise across architecture, design and engineering to get down to the nitty gritty.

At the heart of the building is a grand 40-metre spherical hall for large scale artworks and a spiralling pathway to upper galleries.

Everyone is happy that an Australian firm has been selected, although one commentator quipped: “Surely it would be better to be international than from Sydney!”

The winning design was selected from a shortlist in a two-stage process that included local architectural firm Fender Katsalidis.

Fender Katsalidis architect James Pearce, who designed MONA in Tasmania, has gone on the record saying that a gallery should have character.

“It should be an actor in the play. It gives the curators something to bounce off,” he told Southbank News when the gallery was first mooted.

Times have been tough for everyone, and local architects applauded the state government’s decision to limit the competition to Australian firms.

The government has clearly expressed confidence in the skills available in Australia.

Competitions bring out ideas that haven’t been considered, Mr Pearce said, Fed Square for example. “Even though it’s had its critics, it works.”

The site of NGV Contemporary is triangular, lower than the garden at the NGV and will be connected in a grand scheme of walkways that are still to be engineered.

“Delivering a globally recognisable landmark to Melbourne, NGV Contemporary will provide unparalleled exhibition spaces, educational spaces, studios and scientific laboratories for conservation of artwork,” a spokesperson for Arts Victoria said.

Melbourne Arts Precinct will offer new public parklands which run from St Kilda Rd, Southbank and through to Melbourne’s riverfront – connecting the city’s iconic cultural destinations and enveloping NGV Contemporary.

Larger than the MCG playing surface, the public parkland will incorporate retail and hospitality offerings along with space for events, performances and new public art.

More than 11,000 jobs will be created over the life of the project and the gallery will generate hundreds of ongoing creative sector jobs when it opens in 2028.

NGV Contemporary is part of the Victorian Government’s landmark $1.7 billion investment in the Melbourne Arts Precinct transformation and includes the extensive restoration of Arts Centre’s Melbourne’s State Theatre •

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