Gallery director Tony Ellwood defends design of new building

National Gallery of Victoria director Tony Ellwood has defended the design of the new NGV Contemporary building as “genius” and “breathtaking” after the building came under fire for being risk-averse, bland and beige.

The winning design by architect Angelo Candalepas for the building, which is the cornerstone of the $1.7 billion Melbourne Arts Precinct redevelopment, was named in March.

The NGVC winner (centre) and some of the ones that got away.

The NGVC winner (centre) and some of the ones that got away.Credit:NGV

At the opening of the NGV’s Alexander McQueen exhibition on Friday morning, Ellwood said the gallery had expected there would be “healthy discussion” about the design.

“I don’t think the designs to date truly reflect the ambition of this building,” he said. “You’re talking a 60-metre-high building, this beautiful glazed two-tier rooftop, these verandahs, these glass box galleries, all accommodated on a triangular site with beautiful rectilinear spaces. It is quite breathtaking.”

Ellwood said there would be a 60-metre “omphalos” core that runs through the building and also circular ramps as a way to traverse the building.

“It is quite genius in many ways that we’re working with somebody who’s designed a building that won’t look great just for tomorrow and tomorrow’s aesthetics, it’s going to be a building that’s going to also look sophisticated and contemporary in 100 years’ time. So it pulls back, but it actually talks to the future.”

Director of the National Gallery of Victoria Tony Ellwood.

Director of the National Gallery of Victoria Tony Ellwood.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Critics argue the judges went for a safe design when there was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to produce a new architectural landmark.

Writing in The Age this week, architect Norman Day said the design was a “beige, bland, gaudy show of retail-led exhibitionism”.