Physics Building, University of Sydney Including Interior | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Physics Building, University of Sydney Including Interior

Item details

Name of item: Physics Building, University of Sydney Including Interior
Other name/s: A28
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Education
Category: University
Primary address: Parramatta Road, Camperdown, NSW 2050
Local govt. area: Sydney


The University of Sydney: Camperdown Campus
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Parramatta RoadCamperdownSydney  Primary Address
Physics RoadUniversity of SydneySydney  Alternate Address
Physics RoadCamperdownSydney  Alternate Address

Statement of significance:

The building presents picturesque compositions from a number of vantage points on campus. An interesting example of the precedence Wilkinson gave picturesque principles over functional requirements. The building was part of the 1920s program of capital works funded by the State government under the 1919 Act to accommodate the doubling of student numbers after WWI.
Sited in accordance with Leslie Wilkinson's master plan, the location of the new physics school represented the first major extension of the University's buildings beyond the main quadrangle and Science Road.
The building was the largest of the new buildings designed by Wilkinson in his own distinctive Mediterranean style.
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: R Keith Harris 1922-25, Leslie Wilkinson 1922-25
Builder/Maker: H J & H W Thompson 1924-25
Construction years: 1923-1926
Physical description: One to four storey Inter-War Mediterranean style building with later additions. A very low attenuated facade with central Ionic portico. Sandstone is also used around the major doorways to the wings and pavilions to the east and west. The three storey wings are set back from the main facade, behind a pavilion and belvedere. The Physics building is constructed of brick, rendered and painted off white or cream. The stylistic details and massing are characteristically Wilkinson, derived from Italian villas. There are also carved sandstone shields. The upper balustrades have been painted. The building forms a boundary to the hockey field precinct, continuing the traditional pattern of buildings surrounding grassed spaces. Interiors not inspected.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Refer to the 1999 University of Sydney Heritage Fabric Survey
Date condition updated:16 Aug 00
Further information: Ensure vistas are protected.

Heritage Inventory sheets are often not comprehensive, and should be regarded as a general guide only. Inventory sheets are based on information available, and often do not include the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are constantly updated by the City as further information becomes available. An inventory sheet with little information may simply indicate that there has been no building work done to the item recently: it does not mean that items are not significant. Further research is always recommended as part of preparation of development proposals for heritage items, and is necessary in preparation of Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Current use: University Facility
Former use: N/A


Historical notes: The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney.

(Information sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City )

For a general history of The University of Sydney Conservation Area see Inventory Sheet No. 2431001.

In 1920 a special government grant provided 300,000 pounds over six years for capital works to provide urgently needed additional facilities to cope with the increase in student numbers, which almost doubled in the period 1917-1920. Leslie Wilkinson, Professor of Architecture was appointed University Architect for the eight projects to be funded by the grant including a new building for physics on which he worked in collaboration with Keith Harris. The site chosen, in line with the 1920 master plan, belonged in part to St Paul's College, which made as a condition of an exchange of land, the retention of a direct view between the College and Science Road necessitating the lowering of the central part of the building. Considerable modifications were necessary to limit costs which still exceeded budget resulting in the curtailment of other works intended to be funded by the special grant. The building was completed in 1925.

St Paul's College refused to surrender the land for the construction of the Physics Building unless the college's northern view was preserved. This resulted in a curious and interesting design from Professor Wilkinson. However the reverse view of the Physics building from Manning Road with Pauls nestling on the slope above is pleasant. It was constructed for 77,000 pounds in 1923-1926. The building was designed by the Professor of Architecture, Leslie Wilkinson in conjunction with R. Keith Harris. It is one of a number of proposed buildings that occur on the 1920 master plan for the University by Wilkinson.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Science-Activities associated with systematic observations, experiments and processes for the explanation of observable phenomena (none)-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The building was part of the 1920s program of capital works funded by the State government under the 1919 Act to accommodate the doubling of student numbers after WWI. Marking a departure from Science Road by the Science faculties.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Sited in accordance with Leslie Wilkinson's master plan, the location of the new physics school represented the first major extension of the University's buildings beyond the main quadrangle and Science Road.
The building was the largest of the new buildings designed by Wilkinson in his own distinctive Mediterranean style. One of the finest buildings designed by Professor Leslie Wilkinson. For its composition, designed to specifically protect the view from St Paul's College. For its fine sandstone detailing.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
For its continued use as an educational facility.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Indicating changes in the teaching of physics.
SHR Criteria f)
A rare example of a large scale building designed by Professor Wilkinson, and one of his finest.
Integrity/Intactness: Substantially intact internally. Interior not assessed.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

The preparation of a detailed conservation plan is recommended. Ensure that the impact of any proposal on the heritage significance of the buildings, and their setting, is assessed when planning new works. Refer also to the 1999 Sydney University Heritage Fabric Survey.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I8714 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 1923Buildings & Grounds Committee Minutes February-March, May 1923, University Archives G1/5/2
Written  University of Sydney Calendar for 1922-1924 & 1926
Written Anita Heiss  "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
GraphicCable K, Turney C, Bygott U1990Australia's First
WrittenDPWS Heritage Group and Otto Cserhalmi & Partners1999University of Sydney, Heritage Fabric Survey
GraphicDupain M, Johnson P, Molnar G, Wilkinson D1982Leslie Wilkinson, A practical idealist
WrittenLeslie Wilkinson and Keith Harris Original plans, 1922-1923, Facilities Planning A28-1001-1029 & A28-1145-1149 & 1152-1157 & University Archives G 074 Series 2 Folder 17
WrittenR Keith Harris1930'The work of Leslie Wilkinson - architect' Art in Australia (3rd series) No. 31, March 1930.

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2431013
File number: 1/12/036/0166 RNE

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