Sydney Architecture Images- Pyrmont

Powerhouse Museum


Philip Cox Richardson Taylor and Partners NSW Government Architect Lionel Glendenning


500 Harris Street, Ultimo




Late 20th-Century Post-Modern


brick, steel, glass


Ultimo Power Station
Photograph of Ultimo Ppower Station engine hall in 1905.Ultimo Power Station began operating in 1900, supplying electricity for Sydney's trams. Hundreds of men, and some women, worked at the Ultimo Power Station in its 60 years of operation, yet few records survive of their time there. Pictured at right is Ultimo Power Station engine hall in 1905. This is now the part of the Powerhouse Museum which houses the Steaming exhibition.

Photograph of Grace and Hiram Lennon.The exhibition includes objects that belonged to Hiram Lennon (1910–90), who worked for ten years as a timekeeper, assistant pay officer and first-aid officer at Ultimo Power Station.

He married Grace in 1941 and declared in a love letter written at work 'I never knew what living was until you came along'.

Grace and Hiram Lennon are pictured at left.

Linocut by Bruce Goold commissioned by the Powerhouse Museum to celebrate the transformation from of the former Ultimo power station into the Powerhouse Museum.

From power station to Powerhouse
Ultimo power station was transformed over several years into the Powerhouse Museum which opened in 1988.

The Museum commissioned artist Bruce Goold to create the linocut at right celebrating the transformation.

Special thanks to 
The Powerhouse Museum's origins date to 1879, when the Sydney International Exhibition was held in the Garden Palace, a purpose-built exhibition building located in the grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens. At the conclusion of the Exhibition the Australian Museum (Sydney's museum of natural history) appointed a committee to select the best exhibits, with the intention of exhibiting them permanently in a new museum to be sited within the Garden Palace. The new museum was to be called The Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum of New South Wales, and its purpose was to exhibit the latest industrial, construction and design innovations, with the intention of showing how improvements in the living standards and health of the population might be brought about.

Unfortunately, in September 1882 before the new museum could be opened a fire completely destroyed the Garden Palace, leaving the museum's first curator, Joseph Henry Maiden with a collection consisting of one artefact - a carved graphite Ceylonese elephant statue that had miraculously survived the blaze unscathed despite a 5-storey plunge.

Undaunted, Maiden commenced rebuilding the collection, but for the subsequent decade the new museum found itself housed in a large tin shed in the Domain - a facility it shared with the Sydney Hospital morgue. The ever-present stench of decaying corpses was not the best advertisement for an institution dedicated to the promotion of sanitation, and eventually, after intense lobbying the museum was relocated to a three storey building in Harris Street, Ultimo, and simultaneously given a new name - the Technological Museum.

The new location placed the museum in Harris Street, adjacent to the Sydney Technical College, and as such it was intended to provide material inspiration to the working men being trained there. As time passed it also established branches in some of New South Wales' main industrial and mining centres, including Broken Hill, Albury, Newcastle and Maitland. It also quickly outgrew the main Harris Street site and by 1978 the situation had become dire, with many exhibits literally stuffed into its attic, and left unexhibited for decades.

On August 23 of that year, New South Wales Premier Neville Wran announced that the decrepit Ultimo Power Station, several hundred metres north of the old Harris Street site (at the time called the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences), had been earmarked as the museum's new permanent home, and it re-opened as the Powerhouse Museum at the new site a decade later. The main museum building encloses a space larger than that of the Sydney Opera House, and today contains five levels, three courtyards, a basement and a storage building - however the size and continually expanding nature of the museum's collection means that sizeable offsite storage facilities are also maintained.

Key attractions
The Powerhouse Museum houses a number of unique exhibits, including a Boulton and Watt steam engine, still in operation. This machine was built in 1785, and was acquired from Whitbread's London Brewery in 1888. Another important exhibit is the No 1 Locomotive built by Robert Stephenson in 1854, which was the first locomotive to operate in New South Wales. The most popular exhibit is arguably the Strasbourg Clock, built in 1887 by a 25-year old Sydney watchmaker named Richard Smith. It is a working model of the famous astronomical clock in Strasbourg's Notre Dame cathedral. Smith had never actually seen the original when he built it.

New storage facility
Ninety five percent of the Powerhouse Museum's collection is maintained in storage at any one time. Sixty percent of this was due to be moved in late 2004 to a new three hectare site in the northwestern Sydney suburb of Castle Hill. Built at a cost of AUD $12 million, this facility consists of seven huge sheds, including one the size of an aircraft hangar, within which are to be housed such recently-rediscovered artefacts as a section of the mast of HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, and the spare wheel from Bluebird, the car Donald Campbell drove to break the world land speed record on Lake Eyre in the 1960s. The Powerhouse at Castle Hill is scheduled to open to the general public in 2006.

The museum has hosted many major exhibitions throughout its history, the most popular including Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and the Star Wars exhibition from the Smithsonian. In fact membership of the museum rose alarmingly in the time of Star Wars exhibitions period. People queued outside the building onto the street to see it. The museum also has a few permanent exhibitions that have been around for some years. These include

This exhibition is about computers and connections through them, and looks at the very first computing machines to the latest Mac designs at the time of launch. It includes many interactives and has been very popular.

Space-beyond this world 
This exhibition looks at space and man's discovery of various parts of it. It includes a life size model space-shuttle cockpit, and various interactives and games.

This has been one of the most interactive exhibitions and popular exhibitions in history, due to its name being the main function of the exhibit. It includes many interactives including a chocolate tasting machine which hands out real chocolate bits, a machine where one can pedal and a model firetruck blares its horns, and a model railroad powered by one's own hands.

This exhibition looks at transport from the very early (horse drawn carriages) to the very latest (hybrid cars).

Boulton and Watt engine creation 
The Boulton and Watt original engine is still in operation housed in the back of the museum.

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