A visit to Canberra this weekend drove home to me that arguing for the Powerhouse to stay in its current location is barking up the wrong tree. Honestly I don’t care greatly where the Powerhouse goes: What I want is a great science museum in central Sydney. And to that end, we should move Questacon East.
The Powerhouse is a confused beast, lost between design and applied science, not sure of funding or direction, and now somewhere in transit to Parramatta. It has many strengths (Thinkspace) but it is simply not a great science museum. The Australian Museum does much better with what it has: But it is a tightly-focused natural history museum, and is really a research institution struggling to re-position itself. Then there are some gems like the Nicholson but they don’t have the resources or the focus. Sydney simply does not have a science museum.
On the other hand Questacon is fantastic. Their new spider hall is a wonderful example of an engaging, educational experience that uses imagination rather than iconic items. It tells a story while teaching and entertaining. That’s Questacon all over – it ranks up there with the great science experiences around the world, batting well above its level and all within a relatively small budget.
So, if you accept the premise that as a highly-developed nation with a focus on innovation we ought to have a centrally-located science museum, we should be creating a Questacon in Sydney. Given Questacon already does this job beautifully, the line of least resistance would be to get them to do it again.
Where? Well clearly the Powerhouse site is lost to the public; but there’s still the Barangaroo Central vision that is supposed to include arts and educational activities. Walking around a packed Questacon on the weekend would suggest a local version would be a tourist attraction in the same way the Exploratorium is in San Francisco. And one of the great things about a centre like Questacon is that it does not need an unrealistically huge space to make it viable. It doesn’t need room for a train, it just needs imagination.
Wouldn’t that be a great thing? I know, it’s all a pipe-dream; but I can’t help wishing…