Powerhouse Museum

The Powerhouse Museum opened on March 10, 1988. The challenging design by NSW Government Architect J Thompson and Design Architect Lionel Glendenning for the design of the Powerhouse Museum converting the shell of an industrial building into one of the world’s most up-to-date museums was deservedly given the 1988 Sulman award for architectural merit.

The Trust believes that the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo should be on the State Heritage Register. The State Heritage Register is a list of places and objects of particular importance to the people of New South Wales. Listings are made under the Heritage Act 1977 (NSW) and must be of heritage significance for the whole state. To nominate the Powerhouse Museum for the State Heritage Register, we need to provide an indication of the community’s value of its historical, historical association or social and cultural significance – so we are asking our Members, supporters and the community of Sydney and New South Wales what you think. Our survey takes five minutes to complete and we welcome your participation.

National Trust (NSW) Survey on Heritage Significance of Powerhouse Museum
The link to the Survey is:


In 1997 the National Trust listed the former Ultimo Depot Tramshed on the National Trust Register. On 27th February, 2015 the NSW Premier the Hon Mike Baird announced that Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum would be moved to Parramatta, in the city’s west, if the Coalition Government were re-elected. A site in Parramatta had not been chosen and the existing site at Ultimo would be sold to developers. It appears that Mr Baird considered that his government’s re-election would be a mandate for the sale and move rather than traditional public consultation processes.

A NSW Parliament Upper House Inquiry has revealed that the construction of a new building at the Parramatta site proposed for the Museum move would impact on two historic properties from the late 1800s – Willow Grove and St. Georges Terrace, listed on the National Trust Register in 1985 and 1984.

On 4 July, 2020, the NSW Government announced that it would “retain the Ultimo museum”, stating “Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo will continue to welcome visitors to its renowned exhibits, with the NSW Government today announcing it will remain open”. The NSW Treasurer the Hon. Dominic Perrottet” said the existing museum at Ultimo would provide “a jobs boost and support to the arts community, which has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The NSW Government had planned to sell the current site at Ultimo for up to $195 million with proceeds to be contributed towards the cost of building a new facility at Parramatta.

The announcement also stated “The government will explore if some of the funds earmarked for relocation costs could be used on renovations.”



  • The Trust strongly opposes the sale by the NSW Government of the Powerhouse Museum for redevelopment and would also strongly oppose any demolition of the existing historic structure, the purpose built 1988 extension and extant components that demonstrate the Powerhouse’s original use.
  • The Trust supports the establishment of a Parramatta Branch of the museum with its own distinctive function and style but strongly opposes the closure of the Powerhouse Museum.
  • “To the Trust’s knowledge, no other major museum in the world has closed its major site to re-establish it more than 20 kilometres from a city centre. The British Museum established a satellite museum – the Natural History Museum.
    Other examples of relocating museums have seen the museum relocate in the local area to a bigger facility that expands on the museum’s floor space, providing increased exhibition space and opportunities for other museum related activities. One such move will see the Museum of London relocate from the Barbican to Smithfield Market.The Louvre in Paris has established three satellite museums. The Smithsonian Institution in the United States has proliferated to now include nineteen museums. 21 libraries, nine research centres and a zoo. There are 130 museums in the Paris city limits visited annually by more than 25 million people. Berlin has 170 museums. By comparison, Sydney has only 37 museums and art galleries.In the second half of the 20th Century, the American non profit sector has grown from a small cottage industry to a veritable economic force. While non profit organizations numbered only a few thousands in the 1940s, the sector had grown to some 1.6 million organizations in the 1990s with $670 billion in revenues and a paid workforce accounting for 7% of total employment in the country.Many of the world’s great museums and art galleries have free admission including the National Gallery, London; Smithsonian Museums Washington DC, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York; Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain; Getty Center, Los Angeles; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Tate Britain, London; Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh; Museum of Modern Art New York; Louvre, Paris and many museums in Paris.Despite NSW Government policy to charge admission to the Powerhouse Museum ($15 per adult) and the Sydney Observatory ($26 per adult) visitation increased, with 659,000+ in 2017/18 for the Powerhouse Museum and 159,000+ for the Sydney Observatory.The National Trust calls on the NSW Government to invest in the future of the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo, establish a new museum complex at Parramatta in consultation with the people of that city and encourage increased visitation by instituting free admission to its key Sydney Museums in line with the practice of other great tourism cities around the world.
  • The National Trust strongly opposes the demolition of Willow Grove or St Georges Terrace at Parramatta, or any adverse impacts on these historic properties.



The Trust will promote its views on the Powerhouse Museum in the media and argue that proper public consultation has not been undertaken on this major proposal for a public museum icon.


In 1976 the National Trust’s Industrial Heritage Committee resolved to list the Ultimo Power Station on the National Trust Register.

At that time the NSW Government was considering a site at Ryde for the construction of a new Museum of Technology. Several correspondents with the Sydney Morning Herald noted “the convenience of a near-city (Sydney) site for tourists, including of course the taxpayers of NSW. The Ultimo Powerhouse is part of a technologically rich neighbourhood, surrounded by old port and rail facilities, workshops and factories, markets and woolstores. And, it is within a few minutes’ walk of two important technical institutes.”

On 13 August, 1979 the Premier of NSW, the Hon. Neville Wran announced that the Utimo Power Station and Tram Depot would become a new Museum of Technology to replace the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Harris Street, Ultimo and, in his words, would become Sydney’s symbol of the 1980s and one of Sydney’s great attractions. The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences was founded in 1880, following the Sydney International Exhibition held in the Garden Palace building in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens in 1879. Exhibits illustrating scientific and technological achievements throughout the world formed the original collection of the then Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum. Sadly, almost the entire collection was lost during the fire which destroyed the Garden Palace in 1882. After a short stay in some temporary sheds behind Sydney Hospital, the Technological Museum as it later became known, moved to its new location in Harris Street, Ultimo in 1893.

A Heritage Council 1983 Report noted “the fabric of the Ultimo Power House embodies the spectacular growth of electric power in Sydney and the technological changes that accompanied that growth. The Power House housed the most important innovations in steam-electric generation from the late 19th Century to the mid 20th Century. At the time of the completion of the first expansion phase, Ultimo was the largest and most powerful electricity generating unit in the Southern Hemisphere. The overhead travelling cranes when installed were the most modern of their type in the world and are now rare. The Power House was built to supply electricity for the first major tramway in Australia and for the conversion of other tramways to electric traction. The tramway network revolutionised commuting in early 20th century Sydney and played a significant role in the growth of suburban Sydney.”