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Broadway coming to Parramatta: Winning design unveiled for $188 million Riverside Theatres redevelopment

Broadway coming to Parramatta: Winning design unveiled for $188 million Riverside Theatres redevelopment


COX Architecture with 3XN Architects, Aileen Sage, Turf Design Studio and Bangawarra have won the Design Excellence Competition to redesign Riverside Theatres. The design team competed against the world’s best for the opportunity to reimagine the much-loved Parramatta cultural hub, writes January Jones.

The winning design includes a 1500-seat lyric theatre, as well as a smaller studio theatre, and a cinema. As part of the $188 million redevelopment, the existing playhouse theatre will undergo a substantial redesign into a 760-seat venue, and a cafe and bar will be added to the riverfront.

Interior rendering of the lyric theatre

Riverside Theatres director Craig McMaster said the redesign of the popular performing arts venue will build upon the site’s award-winning history as a cultural anchor for the community.

“Our project is not just about creating an iconic new building; it’s about creating a true centre for the performing arts in Western Sydney, a space where everyone feels welcomed and inspired and which embodies our commitment to cultural inclusion and creative excellence,” McMaster said.

Riverside design team

NSW Government Architect and chair of the Design Excellence jury Abbie Galvin LFRAIA said the competition submissions were “exciting, thoughtful, and highly original”. She thanked all of the teams for investing their energy and sharing their wealth of talent. Galvin praised the winning team for their “sophisticated and expressive design” and the dynamic form of performance spaces that “twists, shapes, and modulates to respond to the river”.

Construction will commence in late 2025 with the new build expected to open to the public in 2028.

Australian Design Review spoke with Cox Architecture director Joe Agius about the incredible opportunity to redesign Riverside Theatres.

ADR: Congratulations on your win. How did it feel to be part of the successful design team?

JA: Fantastic. The initial feeling was at first humbling – given the importance and gravitas of this project and competition process – and it was a great opportunity to contribute to both the cultural and public life of Western Sydney, as well as the dynamically evolving CBD core of Parramatta.

ADR: There were five practices as part of the design team. What was it like working together?

JA: It was a very positive experience. Having done a few of these collaborative competition projects before, you need to come to it from a mindset of respect for everyone and you need to check your ego at the door. Our working methodology included two workshops a week – Tuesday morning and Thursday night. The team gathered in our office here in Cox and we used a Miro board and a physical pinup board. We would proffer design ideas and engage in vigorous open discussion and critique.

Everyone’s opinion was welcome and invited on every aspect, be it landscape, architecture, interiors or public realm. As we came out of each workshop, each practice was assigned a particular area to go away and study. That worked very well. The positive working relationship was helped by the fact that we knew each other, so we weren’t coming to this cold.

ADR: How does Riverside fit into the changing cultural landscape of Parramatta?

JA: Riverside will be catalytic in driving change to the cultural landscape of Parramatta and Greater Western Sydney. Together with the Powerhouse – and hopefully the Roxy – these three projects will set the scene for a new invigorated cultural landscape.

Beyond cultural projects, Parramatta has a new light rail, a new stadium, a new library and community hub in PHIVE, as well as a new public pool. Riverside will be an important ingredient in the total renewal of public life in Parramatta.

Riverside is significant because it’s a 1500-seat lyric theatre, which means that putting large-scale international and Broadway shows and musicals on in Parramatta is now feasible. So it’s a game changer from that point of view too. 

ADR: The design is stunning. Can you talk about the inspiration behind it?

JA: Fundamentally, it comes from deriving an understanding of place from a First Nations perspective. The design team were led by our Indigenous Designing with Country member Bangawarra and spent a great deal of time considering and developing an understanding of place: the ridge lines, the topography, the song lines, the formation of the river, how it’s changed over time, and then creatively deriving an appropriate response to it.

Our mantra was always about putting First Nations first. We constantly came back to this lens when thinking about the design as it evolved through the competition process. Not only through our thinking of an overall conceptual approach, but through our process in the design of each key performance space and piece of public realm. Each told a different narrative of place, through a First Nations lens.

ADR: How were sustainability measures incorporated into the design?

JA: The competition brief called for a 5-Star Green Star rating. Beyond this metric, we were focused on bringing a restorative aspect to the design. We thought about the current somewhat degraded nature of the site’s interface with the river and how we could restore and regenerate the natural systems, in terms of appropriate endemic landscape, ecological aspects and public accessibility.

We tried to ensure that each of the public spaces had a layering of multiple uses, including creating unbriefed additional performance spaces within the foyers and in the landscape. We ensured the design truly addressed the river, while also creating connections to Prince Albert Square – essentially making the building as permeable, open, and public, as possible.

The brief called for a high proportion of the existing building to be demolished. As a result, we put a lot of thought into how that material could be retained on-site and redeployed in various ways. We thought carefully about capturing and retaining embodied carbon on the site and minimising additional carbon through very careful and strategic material selection.

Renders and photography supplied by Cox.

Another NSW project, A Secondary Eye art gallery, has just opened in Sydney.


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