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  • Sep 08, 2020

Flood Risk Prompts Redesign of Parramatta Powerhouse

Rendering of Powerhouse Museum at Parramatta. Image via Facebook.

The new facility of the yet-to-be-built Powerhouse Museum in western Sydney will undergo a significant redesign to remove a 4-meter-high undercroft seen as dangerous for visitors who may become trapped during a flood. The decision follows a third parliamentary hearing on September 2 investigating the February flooding of the proposed site, when waters surged to more than three meters above normal levels. 

According to a September 6 report by the Sydney Morning Herald, the New South Wales (NSW) government will outline details of the redesign in a forthcoming statement. The developments in the controversial project come after the meeting of a parliamentary inquiry committee, initially formed on February 27, which highlighted the lack of “disaster preparedness” exposed by the flooding of the area on February 10, when the site and the riverfront were partially submerged in water.

Prior to the February flooding, numerous parties including the Powerhouse Museum Alliance—a civic group lobbying against the expansion of the Museum in Parramatta—had raised concerns about the environmental dangers of the location. In 2017, the Alliance had published a report detailing the risks, including a 2016 flood study of the site based on the one-hundred-year flood level and climate change data. In 2018, a parliament submission by civil engineer and managing director of engineering consultancy company Water Solutions, John Macintosh, proposed that the site in western Sydney was prone to heavy flooding that could lead to “a potential loss of life. . . and irreplaceable collections.” Following the February 10 flood, a Powerhouse Museum spokesperson stated that the new museum had been “designed to withstand the elements,” and that all exhibition spaces had been positioned above the one-in-100-year flood levels, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Museum’s current design, slated for completion in 2024 with a cost of AUD 645 million (USD 450 million), was envisioned by Paris-based architectural firm Moreau Kusunoki and Australian company Genton, and selected in 2019 from a pool of 74 designs. The project places the building above ground via ladder-shaped structures to mitigate the impact of flooding, while the resulting undercroft was to be used as a sports facility and arts exhibition space during the dry season. 

The museum has been a source of contention ever since plans to relocate the Powerhouse Museum from Ultimo to Parramatta were announced in 2015. On July 4, premier Gladys Berejiklian and treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced that, contrary to original plans, the Ultimo site would remain intact as an adjunct to the Parramatta site.

Fion Tse is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific. 

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