Sydney's controversial Powerhouse Museum relocation plan has become even more fraught, with a roll call of the country's top architects demanding the NSW government commit to an equal go in the design tender for the $645 million project.
Australian Institute of Architects gold medallists Alec Tzannes, Peter Stutchbury and Ian McDougall head a list of 22 architects pressuring the NSW government to commit to a process ahead of the next state election that will not favour a big-name foreign starchitect.
In a letter to acting government architect Olivia Hyde, the architects, who also include Gerard Reinmuth, Ingrid Richards, Richard Francis-Jones, John Wardle, Rachel Neeson and Wendy Lewin, target the selection in September of London-based consultant Malcolm Reading – who managed the competition for Adelaide Contemporary earlier this year – to run the Powerhouse design tender. They warn the government facing re-election against a process aimed to give it a shortlist of big-name architects to wield ahead of the March 23 poll.
"Malcolm Reading has been selected to administer the International Competition for the Powerhouse Museum," the architects said.
"We are also aware of the Adelaide Contemporary Competition which was run by the same firm and within a similar cycle of the governmental term of office ... We seek a process that does not replicate the Adelaide Contemporary Competition."
It was not about protectionism, but about a level playing field, he said.
"I'd love to participate in a competition which is fair," he said. "We need to understand that there are things [in place] for us not to be discriminated against. That's how we felt in Adelaide."
The announcement by former premier Mike Baird in 2015 to relocate the popular museum from its site in central Sydney's Ultimo to the growing western CBD of Parramatta with a business case in place was heavily criticised by a NSW parliamentary inquiry. The new museum is due to open in 2023.
Australia's leading architects say a craving by Australian clients for starchitect-design buildings undermines the country's own efforts to promote the industry overseas and doesn't necessarily result in the best work by that big-name architect. The fault does not lie just with public clients either.