New Spaces

We propose to sensitively convert the internal volume of a Freshwater-class ferry into a series of spaces for collaboration, fabrication, and study. These spaces would include work studios for creatives and professionals, a fully equipped workshop and fab lab, a seasonal cafe-bar, a library, and an auditorium.

These spaces would be flexible enough to be configured for open, public-facing events, such as exhibitions, forums, film screenings, and dance, theatre, and music performances. The vessel’s aluminium superstructure, steel hull, historic livery, and external fittings would be maintained.

Section of a Freshwater ferry during an opening night

Old uses alongside new programs

Learning space on the main deck
A coastal schedule

New Audiences

The ship would always operate in one of two configurations: “working” and “public.” When configured for work, the amenities of the ship would be available for creatives and academics, local community groups, and K-12 and tertiary students. When public, the entire volume of the ship would be open to the general public through regular exhibitions and performances, not unlike art and architecture schools, which at the end of every year transform from messy working spaces to pristine exhibition spaces over the course of just a few days.

If its engines were maintained, the vessel would also have the potential to travel to coastal towns and cities, where, if invited, it could offer a novel platform for local venues and groups to extend their practices and stage events. 

The Working Ship

In its “working” configuration, the ship would be a hive of activity. On the main deck, students and professionals alike would be making in the workshop, using 3D printers and laser cutters for digital fabrication, or more traditional workshop tools for handmade work. The ship’s rope lockers and crew quarters would be transformed into smaller, more private workspaces, for either individual study or tutorials. At the other end of the vessel, others would read, make, teach and learn in the studios, an open but focused environment given form with movable partitions and foldable desks.

Upstairs, one half of the upper deck would be given over to a gallery, populated with foldable chairs for presentations and talks (and a pop-up bar for afterwards). The other half of the upper deck would be occupied by a cafe-bar, with an open, working kitchen in the centre ringed by tables and chairs that also spill out onto the forward terrace. The ship’s exterior peripheral seating, along with the joy of simply sitting and watching the view, would be preserved.

A Freshwater ferry in its “working” configuration showing workshops, studios, galleries, flexible performance space.

Views from a coastal program: Tasman Bridge, Hobart
Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle
Sydney Opera House, Sydney

Our proposal would:

  • Establish a new, highly adaptable cultural venue that contributes to the wider creative ecosystem of Sydney 

  • Preserve and maintain an iconic vessel with maritime heritage value

  • Generate new jobs and apprenticeships in the maritimes trades, which draw on and celebrate the extensive knowledge of Sydney ferry crews and skippers

  • Generate new jobs and opportunities in the creative industries
  • Encourage alternative ways of being on the water that privilege historically marginalised voices and knowledge of the harbour.

  • Catalyse new uses of harbourside architecture, such as wharves, slipways, and quaysides

  • Connect to and learn from existing cultural venues on the foreshore

  • Provide a unique learning space, well-suited to environmental, architectural, and maritime research 

  • Result in a low carbon, zero-waste vessel

A fab lab and maker space on the main deck
The ship configured as a floating cinema
The upper deck configured for a public event


The history of ships is the history of imaginative re-use. Just by Tower Bridge in London floats Grand Cru, a 110-year-old Dutch barge converted into a recording studio by The Who’s Pete Townshend. The US Navy’s USNS Comfort, which is deployed around the world, was an oil tanker before being transformed into a state-of-the-art, floating medical facility. The Australian National Maritime Museum maintains a lightship, a submarine, and other craft as museum ships, allowing multiple generations to critically engage with the city’s maritime history.

The double lives of ships have long made them sites of research, debate, and production, such as SS Patris II, the location of the immensely influential fourth International Congress of Architecture (CIAM) in 1933, or Denmark’s Galathea expedition in 2006, which focused on climate change and marine biology. Out of this tradition, purpose-built research vessels, such as the unique RV Heraclitus, have emerged.

On land, adaptive re-use has proven well suited for major cultural venues, from Tate Modern, to Amsterdam’s NDSM, to the Brisbane Powerhouse, as well as for projects run explicitly for the benefit of the local community. Since 1976, the Addison Road Community Organisation in Marrickville has supported artists, led environmental programs and fought for social justice on 9 acres of former army depot. Since 2012, Pioneer Works, an artist-run cultural center in New York City, has provided studios, labs, a press, and run free public programs in a former ironworks. In London, hosted and subsidised by Somerset House, Makerversity provides spaces, machines and tools for professional makers, as well learning programs for young people with an explicit focus on increasing diversity within the creative industries.

Whether on water or land, careful stewardship has given these sites a second life — just as important as the first. We believe the Freshwater-class ferry should be no different.

A slab of marble ready to be shaped into a Corinthian column during the course of its voyage from China to the UK, from artist Adrian Paci’s film “The Column”, 2013. 

The SESC Pompeia Leisure Center, a highly successful sports and community complex on a former industrial site in São Paulo, designed by Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi.

Camperdown Commons, a former bowling green converted into a market garden, serves its neighbourhood by growing local food, providing education and running programs for the community.

The Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, a national gallery and the UK’s most visited attraction in 2019, sited within the former Bankside Power Station on the banks of the Thames.

Crowds gathered in boats for Pink Floyd’s concert in Venice in 1989, part of a long history of floating architectures in the city.

Architects crouching over drawings on the deck of the SS Patris II as it sails between Marseille and Athens in 1933, documented by László Moholy-Nagy in his film “Architects’ Congress”.

We acknowledge the Gadigal and Gayamaygal of the Yora Nation, the traditional custodians of the lands between which the Freshwater ferries have historically sailed. We recognise their continuing connection to land and water, the sovereignty of which was never ceded.