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Museum of Old & New Art (MONA)

Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Designed by renowned Melbourne architects Fender Katsalidis, the 9,000 sqm predominantly subterranean building appears to have been enveloped by the surrounding landscape. Conceived by its Tasmanian self-made millionaire and art collector-owner, David Walsh, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is located within the grounds of the Walsh-owned Moorilla Estate winery, 12km north of Hobart on the Berriedale Peninsula.

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-02-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-759x506 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© Fender Katsalidis Architects

In fact the landscape manages to penetrate the building, with a 14m high, 140m long, sawn sandstone wall remaining exposed across all three levels at its northern end. The wall seeps ground water, which varies from a trickle to a torrent according to the seasons. Across all three stories of the bunkerlike building lays 6,000 sq m of worldclass exhibition space. Like its exterior, MONA’s interior resembles little of the traditional museum or art gallery we’ve come to expect. Nor indeed, does the collection it holds.

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-04-MONA-759x504 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© Museum of Old & New Art (MONA)

The client, iconoclastic art collector and cultural agitant, briefed the practice to design a private museum: a venue to exhibit both a wide variety of works from his personal collection, and his architectural and curatorial philosophies. To be known as the ‘Museum of Old and New Art’ or ‘MONA’, its requirements translated into a building of 9,500 sq m: 6,500 sq m for public exhibition galleries, the balance for administrative functions. The design would be an honest expression of its purpose, and the planning would eschew traditional itineraries based on period, artist or typology. Its site would be Moorilla Estate Winery, a sandstone promontory on the Derwent River in Berriedale, 12 km north of Hobart.

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-15-MONA-759x506 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© Museum of Old & New Art (MONA)

Fender Katsalidis Architects design response realised the museum as a three level subterranean structure. Displacing 60,000 tonnes of earth and rock from the embankment along the promontory’s south perimeter, the building’s volume is expressed through a bold geometry of waffle concrete and Corten steel, a material palate appropriate to the duality of its land/sea context, and one that will weather gracefully, ensuring the facade is ultimately subsumed by the landscape.

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-19-MONA-759x491 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© Museum of Old & New Art (MONA)

A green roof with a series of sculpture terraces top the building container and re-establish the land’s original height around the Roy Grounds ‘Courtyard House’, which is re-purposed as the museum entrance. The roof is accessible by both land and water: the former via an adjacent on grade car park; the latter, via a private ferry landing and external staircase cleft through bedrock. Descending a spiral staircase, visitors arrive at the lowest gallery level, where a slender rock hewn corridor leads to the museum’s principal organising space, on one side, the three levels of gallery chambers; on the other, full height exposed sandstone. Such raw materiality continues throughout the interior, the building’s internal structure left exposed, and its sculptural envelope expressed, connecting inside with outside in a way that defies the absence of windows.

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-30-MONA-759x504 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© Museum of Old & New Art (MONA)

Interconnection between gallery chambers and levels is unconventional, not complicated, but visually complex. Indeed, the museum as a whole is never clearly seen, but discerned in pieces. Art is thus revealed with a sense of exploration: each visitor experiencing an individual journey of discovery, rather than a pre-ordained circulation strategy. Also outside the norm is the museum’s approach to energy conservation. Its underground situation, design and materiality enable the building mass to act as a highly efficient thermal stabiliser. Once reached, its internal temperature is thus maintained with a relatively small amount of energy. MONA is now one of Tasmania’s principle tourist attractions.

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-40-MONA-759x506 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© Museum of Old & New Art (MONA)

  • MONA is the result of a unique collaboration between David Walsh, self-styled art collector and philanthropist, and Fender Katsalidis Architects. Together they have created a powerful and entertaining experience for displaying and engaging with art, and by extension, one of the best examples in the country of the benefits of cultural tourism.
  • The building is carved into a peninsula of Hobart’s Moorilla Estate where its waffle concrete and Coreten steel container are already weathering inexorably into the landscape. A green roof and sculpture terrace re-establish the land’s original profile. The arrival and departure from the Derwent is dramatic and unforgettable.
  • The Roy Grounds heritage-listed house is repurposed as the museum entrance. A glass lift or spiral staircase theatrically delivers visitors to the lowest levels of a deep cutting where a rock-hewn corridor leads to a sandstone-walled space housing the museum. The raw materiality continues throughout, with the building’s sculptural envelope fully exposed internally.
  • Planning of gallery chambers and level interconnections is deliberately unconventional, eschewing a programmed circulation strategy for individual journeys of discovery.
  • The immediate and long-term impact of this museum on the city of Hobart, the state of Tasmania and indeed the nation is difficult to overstate.
Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-44-flickr-Val-in-Sydney-759x505 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© flickr-Val in Sydney

Fender Katsalidis Architects:

The vision for this Museum of Antiquities on the Moorilla estate is to maintain as one entity the landscaped headland in the Derwent River with its history and focus on growing grapes and wine production and highly accessible cultural pursuits.

The estate has a great and well acknowledged cultural significance to Tasmania and continues to be an established patron of the arts.

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-73-Leigh-Carmichael-759x606 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© Leigh Carmichael

The opportunities presented by the cultural heritage of the site and the topographic qualities of its dramatic setting have become the basis for a proposal which preserves the interrelationship quality of the existing buildings. The new museum building is visually subordinate to the existing buildings and the setting, but internally will create a new level of built environment.

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-76-flickr-Val-in-Sydney-759x905 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© flickr-Val in Sydney

It will be set into the sandstone hill below the existing museum, creating a visual and physical extension of the landscape platform, with highly sculptural river edge walls. The form of the building is inspired by the rock fortress of old towns in Greece, an appropriate response for a museum housing a world class collection of antiques. A major stepped ramped stair cuts its way trough the rock, leading up to the museum entry.

Terraces will be formed into the landscape platform to create a series of exploratory arts-infused trails bisecting the estate and providing interpretations of the natural and cultural heritage of the locale.

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-87-flickr-Raoul-Wainwright-759x441 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© flickr-Raoul Wainwright

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-86-flickr-Fabian-759x505 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© flickr-Fabian

About Museum of Old & New Art (MONA):

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) opened in January 2011 on the River Derwent, just north of Hobart in Tasmania. It houses a diverse art collection that ranges from ancient Egyptian mummies to some of the world’s most infamous and thought-provoking contemporary art. At a cost of $AUD75 million ($USD75 million), its location on the River Derwent just 15 minutes’ drive north of Hobart, the building’s subterranean design and the owner’s unconventional and challenging curatorial approach make it a mustsee for any visitor to Australia. The collection is currently valued at $AUD100 million ($USD96 million).

The museum is cut into the Triassic sandstone of the riverbank and includes 6 000 square metres (64 500 square feet) of gallery space, of which 1 300 square metres (14 000 square feet) are touring galleries built to international museum standards. On the lowest underground level there is The Void Bar and a 63-seat cinema.

The Round House at the western corner contains the Museum Library with more than 4 500 books on numismatics, history, philosophy, ethnographic art and antiquities, along with modern and contemporary art. The Courtyard House, which forms the museum entrance, has a Museum Café and excellent Shop with a strong book section focused on books relating to the collection.

Museum-of-Old-New-Art-MONA-By-Fender-Katsalidis-Architects-93-MONA-759x506 Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / Fender Katsalidis Architects

© Museum of Old & New Art (MONA)

Project Data:

Project name: Museum of Old & New Art (MONA)
Location: 655 Main Road, Berriedale, Tasmania 7011, Australia
Coordinates: -42.812297, 147.260876
Type: Museum, Museum Interior, Adaptive Reuse
Project Area: 9,000 sqm
Status: Built
Cost: $AUD75 million
Completion Year: January 2011
Visit Museum of Old & New Art (MONA)’s website: here


  • 2014 – WAN Interior Awards – Category: Museum or exhibition spaces – Winner
  • 2012 – Australian Institute of Architects Awards – RAIA National Architecture Awards – Sir Zelman Cowen Award – Category: Public Architecture
  • 2012 – John Lee Archer Triennial Prize – Winner
  • 2011 – Master Builders Australia Awards – National Excellence in Building and Construction Awards – Category: National Commerical/Industrial Construction $50-$100 Million

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Museum of Old & New Art (MONA), David Walsh
Architects: Fender Katsalidis Architects – 70 City Road Southbank Melbourne Victoria 3006 Australia
Interior designer: Fender Katsalidis Architects
Controls: Honeywell
Project Team:

  • Nonda Katsalidis, Robyn Bartley, Milena Beames, Roland Catalani, Man Ching Chan, Coen Chin, Karl Fender, Daniel Goldin, Kathie Hall, Ashley Hunnisett, Andromeda Hutchins, Nicolina Iuliano, Shem Kelder, Wayne King, John Lamb, Jessica Lee, Andrea Mancuso, James Pearce, Falk Peuser, Anne Sophie Poirier, Tom Robertson, Rochelle Rosenwax, Eve Sayer, Natalie Stone, Andrew Walter


  • Civil engineers: Johnstone McGee Gandy
  • Environmental engineers: Built Ecology
  • Geotechnical engineers: Coffey
  • Fire engineering: Lake Young & Associates
  • Services engineer: WSP Lincolne Scott
  • Structural engineering: Felicetti


  • Builder: Hansen Yuncken Melbourne
  • Lighting designers: Vision Design
  • Building surveyor: Philip Chun & Associates, Braddon Building Surveying
  • Council Glenorchy: City Council
  • Design consultant: Tandem Design Studio
  • Landscape architect: Oculus Landscape Architecture & Urban Design
  • Quantity surveyor: Rider Levett Bucknall
  • Superintendent: Gallagher Jeffs Consulting
  • Technology consultant: Aegres

Text Description: © Courtesy of Museum of Old & New Art (MONA), Fender Katsalidis Architects, WAN Interior Awards
Images: © Museum of Old & New Art (MONA), Fender Katsalidis Architects, Leigh Carmichael, Brett Boardman, flickr-sjem, flickr-Raoul Wainwright, flickr-Fabian, flickr-Nigel Turner, flickr-Val in Sydney, flickr-Tone Edge, flickr-Callan, flickr-Serg C

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