An underground art museum protects works from natural disasters

By Liz Ginis

June 2, 2022


Buried in a eucalyptus-clad hill beside the Shoalhaven River, the new Bundanon Art Museum protects some of the country’s most valuable works of art from floods and fires.

If you stand still, alone, inside the gallery of the Bundanon Art Museum, you will experience a special silence. There are no car horns or raindrops on rooftops, not even white noise. This is because this building is embedded in the side of a hill and perfectly soundproofed by large clods of earth.

The gallery houses some of the country’s most valuable works of art, produced by Arthur Boyd in the mid to late 20th century, when he lived and painted in his two-storey sandstone farmhouse and nearby studio.

In 1993 Boyd and his wife, Yvonne, donated the 1000ha property and artwork to the public, driven by a vision to create a cultural institution for artistic enjoyment and learning in the Shoalhaven area. in New South Wales.

Prior to the gallery’s opening in early 2022, Boyd’s works were held in warehouses across Sydney after being hastily removed from the property and studio amid the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 were heading towards ownership.

Considered one of Australia’s finest painters, Arthur Boyd was famous for his works exploring themes of love, loss and shame. Photo credit: Brett Faulkner/Newspix

The fires that tore through much of the NSW south coast that season nearly consumed Boyd’s paintings, and with only one road in and out of the heavily wooded property, measures were taken. taken to ensure that the artworks could be returned but never be at risk of fire again.

Enter architect Kerstin Thompson, whose team created a fusion of landscape and art.

“The design is guided by the primary imperative of Bundanon, as established by the Boyd family, to foster an appreciation and understanding of landscape and art,” explains Kerstin.

“We have placed the ecology of the site at the center of the design, with the new suite of buildings and landscapes responding to Bundanon as the subject and site of Arthur Boyd’s work, seeking to heighten visitor appreciation for images, sounds, textures and the functioning ecology of the landscape”.

The suite of buildings Kerstin refers to includes The Bridge. At 160m in length, it spans a natural hillside ravine, “inspired by the flood bridges of rural Australia,” says Kerstin.

Designed to accommodate up to 64 people and featuring a creative learning center and relaxation areas, it offers stunning views of the Shoalhaven River.

The bridge and gallery are designed to adapt to current and future climatic conditions, including bushfires and flooding: on a rainy day it is easy to see these in action, with rainwater flowing into the ravine under the elongated legs of the bridge and towards the river.

In preparation for the construction of the art museum (the gallery and its collection store), approximately 4500 m3 of cutting material (earth and rock) was removed from the hill and then reinstated once the structure was completed.

Its underground nature and a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system provide stable temperature and humidity for the space. Twenty-seven 100m deep geothermal boreholes (located below the bridge) feed this system.

The bridge, 160m long and 9m wide, straddles a natural ravine within the Bundanon compound and includes accommodation for 64 people. Photo credit: Courtesy of Bundanon Art Museum

In addition, the concrete roof of the art museum is covered with native planting, under which are 300-500 mm of soil, a drainage cell, insulation and a waterproof membrane. There is also an air gap behind the building that separates the back wall from the wet floor.

To improve bushfire resistance, the only exposed wall (the main entrance) is wrought from solid concrete and punctuated by double-glazed, steel-framed windows with layers composed of bushfire-resistant glass and of high performance thermal glass. The outer envelope of the museum is made up of solid concrete walls 250 mm thick; inside there is a 260mm thick insulated timber frame wall with plywood backing and plasterboard lining for hanging artwork.

According to Bundanon’s Beatrice Spence, the completion of the state-of-the-art museum secures the future of Boyd’s collection – some 1,448 works by Arthur Boyd, as well as works by contemporaries such as Sidney Nolan, John Perceval, Joy Hester and Charles Blackman. – and an archive of books, scripts and compositions created by artists in residence at Bundanon prior to the redevelopment.

The museum is also the final realization of Boyd’s vision for his beloved property – to be a center of creation.
arts and education, for scientific research and a place to explore the landscape and engage with First Nations
history and culture.

Indeed, the Underground Gallery and Collection Store, and The Bridge, are like broad, beautiful brushstrokes in a Boyd masterpiece – a shared, sublimely beautiful space for artists, writers, musicians, dancers, performers, scholars, students, creative souls and nature lovers in the Shoalhaven.

The art of building

The construction of the $34 million Bundanon Art Museum was a masterclass in environmental design.

Image credit: Kerstin Thompson Architects
  • 1. Mechanical system exhaust vents and air intakes with bushfire dampers
  • 2. The heat rejection HVAC system inside the underground art museum maintains stable temperature and humidity for the exhibition spaces
  • 3. Native plantings, 300-500mm of soil, drain cell, insulation, waterproof membrane and concrete roof all contribute to a thermally stable indoor environment
  • 4. Glazed south-facing skylights allow views of the bush canopy while blocking direct sunlight from entering the building
  • 5. Deliveries of works of art
  • 6. native vegetation
  • seven. An air gap behind the art museum maintains a more stable thermal condition while separating the wall from the damp floor
  • 8. ‘Backbone’ services carrying conduit, electrical wiring, sprinkler pipes and communication wiring
  • 9. Outer layer: 250mm thick concrete walls with integrated shade canopy to minimize direct sunlight entering the building. Inner layer: 260mm thick timber frame insulated wall with plywood backing and plasterboard cladding for hanging artwork
  • ten. Internal openings line up with exterior windows so people can see the surrounding landscape
  • 11. Visitors with reduced mobility, landing stage and roundabout for art delivery trucks and school buses
  • 12. Steel framed double glazed windows with layers of bushfire resistant glass and high performance thermal glass
Image credit: Kerstin Thompson Architects
  • 13. Native bush vegetation
  • 14. The art museum is built into the hill to improve bushfire resistance
  • 15. The roof contains a 100 kW photovoltaic (PV) solar array
  • 16. The Bridge Accommodation and Education building built on stilts above the wet ravine below to allow the waters to flow freely beneath
  • 17. Two water storage tanks, each holding 150 kL, for use by firefighters
  • 18. Network consisting of 27 geothermal boreholes 100m deep, connected to an HVAC system for heat rejection inside the building
  • 19. Lattice of structural steel members; steel is used for its strength and longevity and protected with a special paint for wet environments
  • 20. Surface runoff in wet ravine
  • 21. Photovoltaic inverters and 100 kWh storage battery in the underground technical room connected to the photovoltaic generator mounted on the roof
  • 22. The wastewater treatment plant in the underground technical room supplies The Bridge with drinking water
  • 23. The deck has open-air walkways and lounging areas to allow natural air circulation throughout
  • 24. 300kL underground rainwater storage tank
  • 25. Artesian borehole
  • 26. Disabled visitors, art delivery truck and school bus access road