|Physical description: ||The Department of Education Building occupies a complete city block, its four handsomely detailed sandstone elevations being designed to dominate this area. The northern elevation makes an important contribution to Bridge Street, the monumental simplicity being articulated by the central porch with its broken pediment, a sequence of arched openings and judiciously ornamented balconies and friezes, which are topped by a lofty parapet. The other three elevations generally repeat this formula in a more restrained way.
In addition to the important Bridge Street presentation, there are other important views from the First Government House site, from Macquarie Place and along Bent Street, as well as the axial view from O'Connell Street.
The northern half of the building was designed and construction c.1912-1915 for the Department of Public Instruction, now the Department of Education. The design can be attributed to the Government Architect of the day, George McRae, who as a young man was responsible for the Queen Victoria Building. His later work is characterised by imposing sandstone structures in what may be termed an Edwardian Baroque style, similar to major government buildings being erected in Britain at that time. Central Railway Station (c.1924) and the Department of Public Instruction (c.1914) are prime examples of his later work.
Mc Rae intended that the completed buildings would form a quadrangle around a formal garden, and the second, or southern portion, was designed and constructed c.1928-30 to plans prepared by architects John Reid and Son. These largely followed the formula devised by McRae, but with additional openings to the parapet, and a set back top floor, whose rendered finish somewhat compromised the original intent. This section of the building was constructed for the Department of Agriculture, but since 1967 has been occupied by the Department of Education.
There is no doubt that the formation by successive colonial governments of an administrative enclave in this area to designs by Government Architects such as Lewis, Barnet, Bernon and McRae sought to establish a special precinct, a kind of Antipodean Whitehall.
That the Department of Education Building had British prototypes is quite clear. Its style was in what has come to be termed Edwardian Baroque featuring robust stonework broken by a regular rhythm of quasi-Georgian windows, and a strong play of shallow arches and segmental or broken pediments.
A very obvious prototype is William Young's War Office, Whitehall of 1898-1906, or in a more general sense the vast civic group at Cardiff, Wales (1897-1906).
The interiors of the Department of Education Building were generally functional, a series of simply partitioned offices and corridors now generally altered to form open plan office space. The exceptions were the imposing entry lobbies and related stairs, the finely wrought Minister's office, (or Board Room), and the top floor exhibition galleries. Here the external language of pillars and pilasters, was combined with deeply coffered ceilings and panelled doors and some exuberant detail: plaster, timber and marble were used to enrich these special areas.
The existing building has been constructed in two sections with several later additions.
The first part being the northern section built c.1912. The structure is steel framed with concrete floor slabs supported on a network of secondary RSJ's spanning between primary RSJ's which span from perimeter walls to internal columns. Internal concrete encased. From available drawings it cannot be confirmed whether the external walls to the street and the internal walls to the courtyard are steel framed or whether they are of load bearing masonry construction. Most likely they are load bearing masonry.
The later southern section was originally the Department of Agriculture built c.1928. The structure consists of ribbed one way spanning reinforced concrete floor slabs supported by concrete encased steel plated RSJ's spanning from internal columns to columns within the external walls. The available drawings indicate that the perimeter walls and courtyard walls are steel framed.
Both buildings are stoned clad to perimeter walls and have flat roof construction similar to the floor constructions except that the earlier building has the steel framing and slabs so arranged as to accommodate raised roof lights.
(Department of Education Building, Howard Tanner & Associates in association with Terry Kass and Hughes Trueman Ludlow, 1989)