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Renewing a place of knowledge: TZG at the Art Gallery of NSW

Providing increased amenity and a place to linger for every visitor, Tonkin Zulaikha Greer (TZG) has created a magnificent interior for the relocated and enlarged Art Gallery of New South Wales Library.

Renewing a place of knowledge: TZG at the Art Gallery of NSW

With a transformation by TZG, the Art Gallery of New South Wales Library has been given a new, accessible location. There is now a new Children’s Art Library, while the National Art Archive has been expanded and the Members Lounge is a polished destination of note. Lead Architect on the project, Peter Tonkin, worked with Adam Madigan as Design Lead and Ciaran Acton, as well as the wider team, to produce a stunning result for this valued institution.

The project, including the Edmund and Joanna Capon Research Library, the Ashley Dawson-Damer Children’s Art Library, and the National Art Archives and Art Gallery Society Members Lounge, has realised a modern setting in which visitors and staff can relax and work, while more space has been created for the valuable books and archives that the gallery houses.

The project involved the refurbishment of much of Lower Level 3 of the 1988 wing of the Art Gallery of NSW and is a key part of the Gallery’s revitalisation, upgrading many aspects of the building. Along with the added facilities of a Children’s Art Library, increased space for archives and updating the Lounge, the foyer to the Domain Theatre has also been enlarged. Taken as a whole, the project complements the standard of design excellence on the upper levels.

The brief included a request that the new update would last for some 50 years – something that is unusual for many projects these days. With this in mind, TZG has designed an interior that pays tribute to the initial Andrew Andersons design while nevertheless enacting a contemporary re-invention of the original.

The project accommodates the expected 25-year expansion of the Library and Archive as well as increasing the Lounge by 220 per cent. TZG has kept and extended the original concrete waffle ceiling, translating this to timber throughout other areas of the refurbishment. The concrete polished floors, meanwhile, have been extended and unified throughout.

The unused wintergardens have been updated and re-worked with new glazing and waterproofing. The earth floors are then replaced with concrete, a move which has in turn provided additional floor area without increasing the built volume. 

Tonkin explains further: “The double-height space was what the original architect called a wintergarden. It was meant to let daylight into offices that were deep underground and, of course, it was unused and had just a dirt floor. It became clear very early in the project that we didn’t have enough space within the footprint of the original building because more artist collections were being donated. This was the chance to provide more space for the National Art Archive, have these double-height spaces and put the daylight back into the depths of the floorplan – and suddenly there is a bit of magical daylight and vertical space. That was just great for the quality of the space.”

The project includes accommodating the National Art Archive that preserves and makes accessible significant artist collections. With an enhanced Domain Theatre foyer, there is the capacity to expand the Gallery’s public programs, film screenings and lectures. The Members Lounge now supports increased visitation to the two-building Art Gallery and is a place for members to gather, while the Children’s Art Library was carefully designed to delight children and encourage non-traditional learning. The playground in this area weaves its way through the library bookshelves, while the banquette seating provides a place to relax but also can become a small amphitheatre for special events.

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“The children’s library is unique,” says Tonkin. “It’s the only children’s space in a library in a gallery in Australia, so we wanted a space where children could go and unwind a bit after standing around with their parents looking at art works, being quiet and well-behaved; a space they could sprawl and just relax.”

The upgrade has provided multiple experiential benefits but is also cognisant of sustainability imperatives. As an adaptive project, existing materials were reused and an upgrade of the envelope now provides better thermal and moisture performance. Low-energy services are used where possible, all timber is sustainably sourced and the project is designed for a very long life.

The furnishings of the interior deserve a special note. Product designer, Tom Fereday, worked with TZG to create a special chair for the project, along with bespoke stools and tables and other occasional furniture that adds to the lustre of this beautiful interior.

Australian spotted gum was used to clad walls and library shelving, and in the ceiling waffle installations. The warmth and colour of the timber provides a beautiful aesthetic that is modern and comfortable, while the new outside courtyard garden is sensitively designed by Sue Barnsley.

“I think initially it was a project that felt constrained and without much imagination to it,” reflects Tonkin. “But it flourished and developed into this beautiful outcome with lots of people contributing. I think that’s been the magic, as everybody collaborated and became excited by it as it progressed with a wonderful result. The other really great thing about it is that the old library was so inaccessible and overcrowded that nobody much visited and now there has been increasing visitation. With this space it’s drawing people in and down to the bottom of the gallery.”

With these significant upgrades, the Art Gallery of New South Wales Library, Children’s Art Library, National Art Archive and Members Lounge are now places to visit and spend time. The interior is fitting for this beloved institution and the treasures it holds are now in good hands.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales Library, Children’s Art Library, National Art Archive and Members Lounge is an entry in The Learning Space in the 2024 INDE.Awards and the category is proudly supported by Autex Acoustics.


Tom Fereday

Cieran Murphy

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