Development Controversy at the MCA site is nothing new
The Museum of Contemporary Art is a very familiar sight to any visitor to Sydney's Circular Quay. The classic 1940's Art Deco building was completed in 1952 and was originally the purpose built headquarters for the NSW Maritime Services Board which occupied the site until 1989. After extensive renovations, the Museum of Contemporary Art officially opened in 1991 after relocating from its previous home at the University of Sydney.
Anyone who has been down to Circular Quay recently would have noticed the extensions to the Museum of Contemporary Art. There has been some debate about the architectural merits of the new wing and its juxtaposition next to a six story 1940's Art Deco building. Some say they that the integrity of the original building has been butchered. Leading the disapproval is the celebrated Sydney architect Philip Cox, who described the Museum of Contemporary Art's new wing as mixing ''bland architecture of old with bland architecture of new''. Others, like the extensions architect Sam Marshall says that the contemporary extension is designed to fit the art. "It really had to be contemporary and to fit in the area as well," he said.
But this is not the first controversy over the re-development of the site. The previous development debate over this site was even more tragic.
The c1812 Commissariat and Ordinance Store taken 1 Sep 1939, now the site of the Museum Of Contemporary Art. Photo courtesy of State Records
The current home of the Museum of Contemporary Art was built on the site of Sydney's convict era Commissariat and Ordinance Store. This large sandstone building was built in 1812 on the orders of the newly arrived Governor Lachlan Macquarie. It was the colony's warehouse for storing and supplying goods to the convict and military inhabitants of the struggling settlement. It served this purpose until the end of convict transportation in 1855. The building was then used by various government departments as offices up until the 1930's.
When there was a move by the government of the day to demolish a number of Macquarie era buildings, there was much disbelief and a group of activists were outraged enough to form the National Trust. Unfortunately, the National Trust couldn't save the Commissariat building which despite its historic associations with the origins of Australian colonisation was laid waste.
Before work on the new extension was commenced, I thought the Museum of Contemporary Arts building an impressive and dignified piece of architecture. Standing at roughly the same position as the photo taken of the Commiserate building in 1939, it's obvious that the new wing fails to flatter the original 1952 construction. If we could only return to that meeting that decided to approve its design and be somewhat more forceful about arguing against it. Or even better, to the meeting back in the 1930s and argue about retaining what was a significant and important early colonial building.