The client, iconoclastic art collector and cultural agitant, briefed the practice to design a private museum: a venue to exhibit both a wide variety of works from his personal collection, and his architectural and curatorial philosophies. To be known as the ‘Museum of Old and New Art' or ‘MONA', its requirements translated into a building of 9,500sqm: 6,500sqm for public exhibition galleries, the balance for administrative functions. The design would be an honest expression of its purpose, and the planning would eschew traditional itineraries based on period, artist or typology.
Its site would be Moorilla Estate Winery, a sandstone promontory on the Derwent River in Berriedale, 12 kilometres north of Hobart's city centre. Associated with the arts since its establishment in 1958 by Claudio Alcorso, the setting had evolved considerably under our client's stewardship: the original vineyards and two heritage listed villas by Roy Grounds, now complemented by a microbrewery, fine dining restaurant and boutique accommodation. MONA would be the jewel in its crown.
Fender Katsalidis Architects design response realised the museum as a three level subterranean structure. Displacing 60,000 tonnes of earth and rock from the scrubby embankment along the promontory's south perimeter, the building's volume is expressed through a bold geometry of waffle concrete and Corten steel, a material palate appropriate to the duality of its land/sea context, and one that will weather gracefully, ensuring the facade is ultimately subsumed by the landscape. A green roof with a series of sculpture terraces top the building container and re-establish the land's original height around the Roy Grounds ‘Courtyard House', which is re-purposed as the museum entrance. The roof is accessible by both land and water: the former via an adjacent on grade car park; the latter, via a private ferry landing and external staircase cleft through bedrock. Descending a spiral staircase, visitors arrive at the lowest gallery level, where a slender rock hewn corridor leads to the museum's principal organising space, on one side, the three levels of gallery chambers; on the other, full height exposed sandstone. Such raw materiality continues throughout the interior, the building's internal structure left exposed, and its sculptural envelope expressed, connecting inside with outside in a way that defies the absence of windows.
Interconnection between gallery chambers and levels is unconventional, not complicated, but visually complex. Indeed, the museum as a whole is never clearly seen, but discerned in pieces. Art is thus revealed with a sense of exploration: each visitor experiencing an individual journey of discovery, rather than a pre-ordained circulation strategy. Also outside the norm is the museum's approach to energy conservation. Its underground situation, design and materiality enable the building mass to act as a highly efficient thermal stabiliser. Once reached, its internal temperature is thus maintained with a relatively small amount of energy. MONA is now one of Tasmania's principle tourist attractions.