Entering the new wing of Art Gallery Sydney Modern designed by SANAA - a space where shapes, materials, light, space, sky, sea and earth come together in delicate harmony - a phrase by Flaubert comes to mind: "Only three things are infinite. The sky in its stars, the sea in its drops and the heart in her tears".
If he had seen this building, perhaps he too would have added architecture to this list: SANAA's Sydney Modern, in fact, makes anyone feel he travels it as in a light, infinite bubble that delicately floats between sky, earth and sea.
A building in harmony with the environment
"Since the first idea, sketched for the competition, ten years ago, the desire was to design an art museum building that was harmonious with the surrounding environment" - explains Ryue Nishizawa.
"A space capable of breathing with the city, with the park and with Sydney Bay" - specifies Kazuyo Sejima - "in the hope of conceiving a unique, special, where the visitor could feel immersed in art and nature, from every corner of the museum".
How to read Sydney Modern architecture
And here is the new Sydney Modern: a harmonious succession of angles and curves, solids and voids. A long curved wall of rammed tactile earth, perfectly imperfect, made with debris and remains recovered from all over the region, runs sinuous along the soft slope of land from the grounds of the Domain to the water of the harbor at Wooloomooloo.
Three art pavilions with regular shapes, geometric prisms covered with thin shiny limestone bricks contrast and invade the empty spaces of the glazed atrium that completes the gallery.
To support the roof, also used as an art terrace, at this moment enlivened by a cheerful maxi sculpture signed Yayoi Kusama, slender completely white columns, which cross the structure going beyond all three levels.
The secret bunker called Tank
But the biggest surprise is the Tank. The last space that concludes the Sydney Modern project.
The last space located in the lowest and most secret level of the gallery. The last space that dazzles with its total absence of light.
"When we discovered the existence of this oil tank, hidden underground since the Second World War" - tell the SANAA - "we immediately seized the opportunity to give it back to life. The silence, the smell, the absolute lack of natural light, the strict rows of columns and the spectacular acoustics made us think of the site as the perfect place to host audio-visual art installations".
A sensory journey that goes from light to darkness
The strength and drama of the bunker is still intense, alive, it slowly gets under your skin when you walk up the long white concrete spiral staircase that connects the three upper levels, open and bright, with this area hidden, visceral, closed and dark. Entering the underground art space is an experience. A sensory journey that leads from light to darkness. With the spectacular volume of the staircase that acts as a lantern, guiding silently and safely, not only through the architecture but also through the emotions.
nature completes the experience. Not just the breathtaking one created by the boundless expanse of blue, which sees the water of Sydney Harbour join the infinite sky above the city skyline. But also the one created by the more than 3000 square meters of landscape designed together with the building. Natives, autochthonous plants, which offer sounds and scents. A new hub for the city of Sydney.
A new destination for art and culture. A splendid setting that combines art, nature and architecture. An Art Campus where the architecture represents the backbone of the space, the territory symbolizes its heart and art its soul.
Cover photo: Aerial view of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ new SANAA-designed building, 2022. Ph. Courtesy: Iwan Baan