The largest art gallery in the southern hemisphere, completely redesigned.

Project data

  • Status
  • Year
    1996 – 2003
  • Tipology
  • Location
    Melbourne, Australia > map
  • Client
    NGV and Major Projects Victoria Melbourne, Australia
  • Budget
    174 million € (adjusted 2013)
  • Total Area/Surface/Volume
    33.300 sq m
  • Awards
    International competition: winning project


The realisation is the final result of an International Competition in 1996 of which Bellini was the winner.
The project safeguards the building constructed in the 1960s under the design of the architect Roy Grounds and characterised by its façades covered in traditional Australian “blue stone”.

For Melbourne, a city founded in 1835, the existing museum has the aura of an historical building, despite its recent construction, it is a symbol of the city, protected by the Heritage Victoria, the organisation that oversees the historical heritage of the region.

For this particular reason, if seen from the eyes of a European architect, it suggests to Bellini a design approach which, used here for the first time, will go on to be found frequently in his work of later years.

“The project of transformation – Bellini says – respects the ‘exterior box’ of the building, characterised by the rusty greyish blues of the bluestone, while completely revolutionising the interior.

It is a “bionic” type of intervention – hitech in its materials and solutions – that avoids mimicry, making it that much more recognisable and distinct from the “pre-existing”. The result is an intense contrast which is dialectically productive: the new makes no attempt to hide, and by showing itself, dialogues with the old, creating a short circuit that aesthetically stimulating and historically coherent.

The grand central hall is covered by a spectacular glass ceiling, and thus becomes the vital and articulated interface with the city, performing all the informational and relational functions.

A network of angled winds, in very light hi-tech materials, partially invades the hall: it is a sort of “genie in the lamp” that distributes visitors to the various floors, and features a caféobservatory on the mezzanine floor.

The indispensable pre-existing waterfall, so dear to the collective memory of the place, has been reinvented with a large sheet of glass on which the water runs: a magical curtain-screen that reflects and multiplies the light. In the side halls of about 750 sqm each, two big cubes of 20 m x 20 m, slightly rotated to preserve their singularity, double the exhibition space, which is all connected by a balanced network of ramps and walkways that manage the circulation and flows of movement.

The two new buildings, laid out on three levels, rise up towards the sky to capture light through wide and upraised deflectors, producing unexpected effects in the exchange with external light, particularly intense in this geographical zone.”

(Ermanno Ranzani)



Mario Bellini Architects

Design Team
Mario Bellini. With Giovanna Bonfanti, Carlo Malnati
In association with Metier 3 Architect, Melbourne

Project Team
Giovanna Bonfanti and Carlo Malnati (project architects). With Metier 3 Architect, Melbourne


Mario Bellini Architects

Design Team
Mario Bellini.  With Giovanna Bonfanti and Raffaele Cipolletta

Project Team
Giovanna Bonfanti (project architect), Raffaele Cipolletta. With Nina K. Daniels, (Melbourne). Andrew Bowen, Michele Caja, Samantha Cotterell, Margarita Krouchaska, Giovanni Rizzi, Luigi Vaciago

Exhibition Design Team
Mario Bellini. With Giovanna Bonfanti and Giovanni Cappelletti

Project Team
Giovanna Bonfanti (project architect), Giovanni Cappelletti. With Maria Grazia Angiolini, Margherita Cugini, Mio Shibuya

Project Manager
Barry Sweeney, Melbourne

Structure:  Ove Arup & Partners, Melbourne
Mechanical and electrical services:   Lincolne Scott Australia, Melbourne
Display Cabinets:  Meyvaert Glass Engineering, Gent, Belgium
Landscaping:   KLM Gerner Consulting Group, Melbourne
Graphic Design:   Graphics Garry Emery Design, Melbourne
Photo:   John Gollins, Melbourne

Building Contractor:   Baulderstone Hormibrook, Melbourne
Display Cabinets:   Meyvaert Glass Engineering, Gent, Belgium

National Gallery of Victoria – Video