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Adelaide Contemporary architects help design Aboriginal Cultures Centre

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UPDATED: Two years after its “landmark” design for a mooted Adelaide Contemporary art gallery at Lot Fourteen was scrapped by the Marshall Government, architecture firm Woods Bagot has been commissioned to undertake preliminary design work on the new Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre at the same North Terrace site.

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The State Government confirmed Woods Bagot’s Adelaide studio has been working on preliminary designs, with concept images due to be released next month.

Woods Bagot, an international architecture firm founded in South Australia, has chosen to partner with New York-based architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro on the project.

For now, Woods Bagot has only been commissioned to work on preliminary designs.

The preliminary concept images will be the first insight into what the centre will look like since Premier and Arts Minister Steven Marshall announced ahead of the 2018 state election that he would scrap the former Labor Government’s plans for an Adelaide Contemporary art gallery at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site – now called Lot Fourteen – and instead build a gallery dedicated to displaying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and cultural artefacts.

Woods Bagot and Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed the winning entry for Labor’s $2 million Adelaide Contemporary international design competition in 2018.

But Marshall, whose government was contractually obliged to complete the design competition begun under Labor, halted progress on the Adelaide Contemporary project. 

Competition jury chair Michael Lynch, who has since openly criticised the Marshall Government’s decision, said in 2018 that the winning concept responded to a “once-in-a-generation opportunity for a landmark building in the heart of the city”.

The design included what the architects called a ground-floor “super lobby” and “floating top-floor sky galleries”. It had nine gallery spaces of differing sizes and heights.

In a media release announcing the winning entry, Arts SA said: “The elevated garden open to the sky would be inspired by the Kaurna concept of Minkunthi (meaning ‘to relax’) with planting of a pre-colonised South Australian landscape, linking the idea of the contemporary to the Kaurna ecological and cultural history”.

It is unclear whether the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre design is a rework of the original Adelaide Contemporary gallery plans, with a spokesperson from Woods Bagot declining to comment.

An artist’s impression of the Lot Fourteen precinct, showing the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre on the far right.

Lot Fourteen state project lead Diane Dixon said the Government had conducted “extensive stakeholder engagement” over the past few months to determine the project’s needs and resourcing, including staffing.

She said the State Cabinet would consider the final business case for the centre next month.

Meanwhile, the State Government is yet to announce a director to deliver the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre project, despite job applications closing in October.

According to the job description, the director must identify as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person and would be paid between $154,678 to $216,626 per year.

They would be responsible for overseeing the building’s design, developing the centre’s curatorial strategy and establishing an ongoing funding model.

A government spokesperson told InDaily there was no update on the director role.

The centre’s anticipated opening date has also been pushed back.

Marshall told InDaily in February that the Government “hoped” that the centre would open in 2023, but Renewal SA has since flagged a 2025 opening date, after consultation with the state’s Aboriginal communities took longer than expected.

In October, the Government appointed SA Museum board member and Aboriginal Advisory Committee chair David Rathman AM as the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre’s ambassador.

Rathman has been a leading advocate for the relocation of the SA Museum’s collection of more than 30,000 spiritually and anthropologically-significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artefacts out of a leaking storage shed in Netley where they are at risk of irreparable damage.

The Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre is expected to house some of that collection alongside pieces from the Art Gallery of SA and State Library.

The development of the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre and the overall Lot Fourteen precinct is being led by the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

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