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064 PROJECT / MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA


Sydney’s Circular Quay is perhaps best known for the iconic landmarks that bookend its neat loop past the CBD. But tucked between the Opera House and Har- bour Bridge there is a third grace, just as noteworthy.


The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) was established in 1991 with a lofty remit ‘to inform and educate Australians about international contemporary visual art’. It adopted as its home the former Mar- itime Services Board building, an imposing art deco structure completed in 1952 and situated at the harbour’s edge. The site served the museum well, but in 2010 a plan was instigated to redevelop and extend the museum in order to create, in the words of MCA Director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, “a truly national and international institution serving the audiences of the future”. When unveiled, the new design, undertaken by local architect Sam Marshall and the NSW Government Architects Office, was contro- versial: a modern ‘stacked cube’ structure that sought to echo the progressive and


contemporary nature of the art inside. Mar- shall offered a sturdy defence. “The new extension provides the MCA with a striking architectural signifier which reflects the contemporary work of the institution, whilst respecting the existing building’s architec- ture,” he said.


After a 21-month closure, the museum reo- pened with its new Northern wing - contain- ing two new five-metre-high column-free galleries - as well as refurbished galleries and lecture theatres, new workshop and office spaces, covered outdoor terraces and a café.


The critical task of lighting both new extension and refurbished galleries fell to lightmatters, the specialist lighting studio at Sydney-based Haron Robson. Lightmat- ters already had a longstanding involve- ment with the museum, having carried out occasional renovations since as far back as 2002. This working history proved a strong advantage as the project proceeded, as lightmatters’ Managing Director Glen Haron notes: “The team had worked together for


Clockwise from above The new northern wing of the MCA, with its modern, stacked box design; a significant number of exhibits at the MCA use video or projected stills, requiring highly controllable light levels (provided by Philips Dynalite system); the overall aim was to conceal and provide consistent lighting in the ceiling troughs, maintaining the clean line of the ceiling; DAL surface mounted downlights service the entranceway feature stairs and foyer; at the top of the stairs, visitors reach the main reception space, Zumtobel CF downlights provide much of the FOH illumination.


a long time and by the time we started the major project we understood their business and aims very well. For the lighting the architect wanted minimal intrusion of light- ing hardware and sought a series of white boxes or blank canvases on which anything could be overlayed - for art or functions. If the lighting could emphasise the box forms then this was seen as a bonus by the design team.”


The cubic shapes that characterise the exterior of the new extension are echoed inside as a repeated pattern on the ceiling. Lightmatters liaised with the architect to find places in which the lighting could be


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