It’s been a long road, but at last the closure and renovation of Powerhouse Ultimo is nearly upon us. With just a few weeks until the doors close for works to begin, here’s everything you need to know about Powerhouse’s present and future.
When will Powerhouse be closed?
The final day of public access at Powerhouse Ultimo is February 4, 2024, with the doors shut from February 5 onwards. Renovation works are expected to take up to three years, so we’re tentatively looking at a reopening around the spring/summer of 2026-2027, provided there are no unforeseen delays.
Happily for culture-starved Sydneysiders, there will be an alternative available to visit much sooner; the new Powerhouse Parramatta is expected to reach completion in 2025, offering the first state cultural institution of NSW to be based in Western Sydney. Remarkably, it’s the largest cultural infrastructure project in the city since the creation of a little place called the Sydney Opera House. Elsewhere in the Powerhouse family, the Castle Hill site will remain open in 2024 (although it’s also undergoing an expansion) with various curiosities and collections available for the public to view on weekends.
What’s happening at Powerhouse?
With $250 million allocated to the project, there are plenty of upgrades and works planned for the new and improved Powerhouse. The overall aim of the renovation is to rejuvenate the museum with a new and improved exhibition space that allows for more objects to be on display at once. There will be space for visitors to flow more easily around Powerhouse, and create a more flexible exhibition space to accommodate evermore exciting arrivals that put applied arts and sciences in the spotlight.
Elsewhere, renovation works will better incorporate the historic facades of the original power station – which date all the way back to 1899 – into the overall structure, as well as the Turbine Hall and Post Office building. The museum’s main entrance will be found on the Goods Line (another celebrated Sydney urban renewal project), offering a better connection to the CBD and Central Station. Meanwhile, the Sulman Medal-winning Wran Building that forms part of the museum complex will be retained and preserved.
A final addition to the new and improved Powerhouse is a new outdoor public square, offering an additional green space in the area. It’ll also feature studio space for those working in creative industries, technology, and the sciences, along with education studios that add another weapon to the Powerhouse arsenal.
The planned renovation of the Ultimo site has been quite the saga since news first emerged back in 2015. First, there was the originally mooted scheme to sell the site and move west to Parramatta, which was fiercely opposed by the National Trust and others on the grounds that a piece of Sydney history would be torn down, and many more objects would need to be sent into storage. This plan was finally dropped in 2020, and the Powerhouse Parramatta project, which was confirmed in 2021, instead becomes a new addition to the Powerhouse family, rather than a replacement.
As recently as August 2023, a $481 million redevelopment of the Ultimo museum was favoured, with a 2022 design competition producing a short-lived winner that would have demolished the Wran Building – a decision which sparked yet more controversy. By September 2023 – and after a fair amount of political to-ing and fro-ing that we’ll not rehash here – the final $250 million renovation & restoration scheme was settled on, a more modest cost that would enhance the existing museum, rather than replace it.
What’s on at the museum before it closes
With under a month until the closure of Powerhouse, there’s only a scant few weeks for you to visit the current exhibitions and attractions on display. Here, we’ve rounded up what’s on right now, in addition to longstanding exhibits such as Future Fashion, Space, Steam Revolution and more. Please note: all exhibitions will close on February 4, 2024 unless stated otherwise.
1001 Remarkable Objects: quite simply, it’s 25 rooms filled with a massive variety of interesting objects, some of which have never been exhibited before
A Line A Web A World: displays 230 drawings that span hundreds, even thousands of years
Absolutely Queer: part of Sydney WorldPride 2023, this exhibition explores the work of Sydney’s queer creatives through the years
Paradise Camp: Yuki Kihara’s photographic tableaus put gender and colonial legacies under the microscope
Blak Powerhouse (Jan 26): a one-day event by We Are Warriors to mark Australia Day, featuring music, dance, workshops and more
Catalina: get up close to Frigate Bird II, which once flew from Australia all the way to Chile
It’s all change at Powerhouse, so visit whilst you can and then eagerly await the arrival of Powerhouse Parramatta and the grand reopening of Powerhouse Ultimo. As always, we’ll keep you updated on the latest news.