A professional resource for the design curious

Australia’s next architectural masterpiece seeks designer

With a new architectural competition just announced, those who comprise the design community in Australia have the opportunity of a lifetime – to create something that will change and enhance the landscape of Melbourne, art and architecture forever.

Australia’s next architectural masterpiece seeks designer

Artists impression of the envisioned NGV Contemporary and wider Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation, courtesy of HASSELL + SO-IL

As architectural competitions go, they don’t come much bigger than the NGV Contemporary Design Competition announced last week. Launched by the Victorian Government and the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), NGV Contemporary will be a purpose built, twenty-first century gallery located at 77 Southbank Boulevard and its presence will, no doubt, become the crowning glory of the Melbourne Arts Precinct. At 30,000 square metres the building, when completed, will be the largest gallery of contemporary art and design in Australia.

As Competition Advisor, Andrew Mackenzie, Director of CityLab is advising on the process of the competition from beginning to end. Mackenzie has been involved with the architecture and design community for decades, and as a writer, publisher and consultant is well known for his architectural expertise. For the last 15 years he has been conducting architectural competitions up and down the country, most of that time under the banner of CityLab.

Artists impression of NGV Contemporary and a public pavilion envisioned for Melbourne Arts Precinct, courtesy of HASSELL + SO-IL

Artists impression of NGV Contemporary and a public pavilion envisioned for Melbourne Arts Precinct, courtesy of HASSELL + SO-IL

Artists impression of envisioned new NGV Contemporary building, courtesy of HASSELL + SO-IL

Artists impression of envisioned new NGV Contemporary building, courtesy of HASSELL + SO-IL

Architecture competitions are complex and speaking to him about his involvement and the process was enlightening. The decision to explore a competition for the project was made in 2018, and despite the disruptions of COVID-19, the planning and preparation for the competition progressed. Mackenzie reflected, “Every part of the process has been discussed and debated and agreed with multiple parties. The time taken has allowed us to mature our thinking and in the process develop the best possible competition process. We’ve been able to really carefully think through the way the competition is run, its process and its brief.”

Indeed the process for entrants is rigorous but at its heart is the idea of collaboration. With a project such as this there will need to be many participants and as Mackenzie reiterated, “We’re very keen for the competition to really engage exciting creative collaborative multidisciplinary teams. A competition of this sort, as you can imagine, will require architecture, urban design, interior design, hospitality and event experience, smart technologies, landscape architecture and a host of other disciplines. While possible, it is unlikely that all of the disciplines and skills required can be found in any one practice so we are really encouraging collaborative participation.”

Installation view of In Absence, 2019 designed by Yhonnie Scarce and EditionOffice for the 2019 Architecture Commissionat NGV International, Melbourne from 23 November 2019–April 2020. Photo: Ben Hosking

Installation view of In Absence, 2019 designed by Yhonnie Scarce and EditionOffice for the 2019 Architecture Commissionat NGV International, Melbourne from 23 November 2019–April 2020. Photo: Ben Hosking

The process has just commenced with registrations and this will be followed by a two-part Expression of Interest and a two-part design competition. The winning team will be chosen from a shortlist in Stage Two of up to four teams with the announcement of the winning team and reserve to be made in the summer of 2021/2022.

Asked about the challenges he thought the entrants might encounter Mackenzie replied, “Well I would say that any competition that is trying to push the creative envelope in what’s possible will always face the ever-present challenges of managing construction budgets and timelines. But more specific to this project, the urban design context is really important. Obviously, connectivity between NGV Contemporary and the Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation is really important because it’s a major new investment in the public realm of that part of the city. Then there are all the challenges and opportunities you would expect to come with a major gallery for contemporary art and design. When you think that in 2017/8 just one NGV exhibition (the NGV Triennial) drew over a million visitors, managing large volumes of people while protecting opportunities for intimacy is a complex design challenge.

Installation view of Pae White Untitled 2017 on display at NGV Triennial at NGVInternational, 2017 Photo: Shaughn and Joh

Installation view of Pae White Untitled 2017 on display at NGV Triennial at NGVInternational, 2017 Photo: Shaughn and Joh

Another most important aspect of the competition is the jury. At this stage three jurors have been announced, Tony Ellwood AM, Director, National Gallery of Victoria, Corbett Lyon, NGV Trustee and Jury Chair and Victorian Government Architect, Jill Garner AM LFRAIA, with more members to be announced shortly.

As an initiative, the NGV Contemporary Design Competition is unparalleled for Australian architectural opportunity. Unlike many other large competitions, where there is a perception that a winning team needs to partner with an international architect, registration is only open to Australian architects. Here is a chance to showcase the talent and capabilities of Australian architects, designers, engineers and myriad creatives through a building that will stand the test of time and lay testament to excellent design.

Exhibition image of Yayoi Kusama’s Flower Obsession 2017 on display in NGV Triennialat NGV International 2017 Photo: Eugene Hyland

Exhibition image of Yayoi Kusama’s Flower Obsession 2017 on display in NGV Triennialat NGV International 2017 Photo: Eugene Hyland

When asked what he thought the expectations of the NGV, Creative Victoria, Development Victoria and other project partners might be through this competition, Mackenzie replied “Of course, the final outcome of a brilliant piece of architecture is the number one priority. But how we get there is also important. We all want this competition to be an exciting moment for local creative industries to show the world what Australians can do. In that sense this is a bold and progressive move, and a natural extension of the NGV Director Tony Ellwood’s vision, and of course the gallery’s curatorial program, to strongly promote and invest in Australian architecture and design”

So, no pressure! It’s now up to the architecture and design community to heed the call, collaborate and present to the competition jury a gallery design to enhance Melbourne and indeed Australia and, I for one, can’t wait for the announcement.

INDESIGN is on instagram

Follow @indesignlive


The Indesign Collection

A searchable and comprehensive guide for specifying leading products and their suppliers


Indesign Our Partners

Keep up to date with the latest and greatest from our industry BFF's!

While you were sleeping

The internet never sleeps! Here's the stuff you might have missed