Department of Education Building Including Interior | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Department of Education Building Including Interior

Item details

Name of item: Department of Education Building Including Interior
Other name/s: Originally Included Department of Agriculture
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Government and Administration
Category: Office building
Location: Lat: -33.8654292644343 Long: 151.209510885551
Primary address: 35-39 Bridge Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
35-39 Bridge StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The Education Department Building is significant for its historical, social, architectural and townscape values. It is a physical manifestation of the importance to NSW of education and agriculture in the early years of the century. It is a fine example of Edwardian institutional architecture, featuring ornate sandstone carvings and classical details of high quality and craftsmanship, an innovative internal steel framed structure that allowed for flexible use of floor space, and well detailed major public spaces (entrances, stairs and top floor gallery). The building has a pivotal visual role in Bridge Street and the surrounding precinct, forming part of a government administrative enclave with the Department of Lands and Chief Secretary's buildings.
Date significance updated: 30 Dec 05
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: George McRae (north), John Reid & Son (south)
Builder/Maker: Department of Public Works (north), Kell & Rigby (south)
Construction years: 1912-1930
Physical description: The Education Department Building is an 8 storey office building occupying a whole city block. It was built in two stages around a central courtyard, and hence has two sets of lifts and stairs, now with modern galleries added around the courtyard to connect the two sides of the building. The Bridge Street stage was designed in the Edwardian Baroque style, with a strongly rusticated base, central porch with broken pediment, and a sequence of arched openings, ornamented balconies and friezes topped by a lofty parapet. The remaining elevations repeat this pattern in a more restrained way. The northern section of the building has loadbearing masonry external walls, steel beams and internal columns, and concrete floors, with a flat roof and copper clad lantern lights to the gallery spaces below. The southern section has steel columns both internally and within the external wall, supporting steel beams and reinforced concrete floors. Windows in both sections are steel framed. While the main public areas (entrance foyers and stairs, and northern top floor gallery) are still largely in original condition, other sections of the building have been modernised internally. Original interior features remaining include elaborate marble flooring and facings, decorative plaster ceilings, polished timber doors with bevelled glass and brass Art Nouveau hardware, and wrought iron stair balustrades. Category:Individual Building. Style:Federation Academic Classical. Storeys:8. Facade:Sandstone, Steel frame windows. Side/Rear Walls:Sandstone, Steel frame windows. Internal Walls:Plastered brick, Plasterbd & stud. Roof Cladding:Waterproof membrane, Copper sheeting. Internal Structure:Steel column & beam. Floor:Reinf. Conc. Slab. Roof:Reinf. Conc. Slab, Timber framing (to lanterns). Ceilings:Decorative plaster (foyers), Susp. acoustic tiles (office areas). Stairs:Main northern stair (marble floors and panelling) extends 3 floors open as original, then is enclosed above. Fire Stairs:Yes. Sprinkler System:Yes. Lifts:2 banks of lifts, modernised. General Details:Refer to Archaeological Zoning Plan.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Condition is generally good. AirConditioned:Yes
Date condition updated:05 Dec 05
Modifications and dates: 1912-15 (northern side), 1928-30 (southern side)
Further information: Exceptional Significance: Architectural form, planning and character, sandstone façade, original steel structure, steel windows, timber framed copper roofed lantern lights, masonry walls to courtyard, marble flooring and facings, wrought iron entrance gates, balustrades and grilles, entrance foyers, main stairs, decorated plaster ceilings, war memorials Low Significance: Modern fitout and services. Comments: Modern steel and glass galleries added around edges of courtyards to connect the two sections of the building.

Was heritage item in 1989 and remains so to the present.

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: Government Office
Former use: Government Office (two departments)


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. .

With the European occupation of the Sydney region from 1788, the Cadigal and Wangal people were largely decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today.

The city block occupied since 1912-5 by the present Education building had been built upon since the early years of the colony and had been the administrative centre for state education since 1881. The new Department of Public Instruction, founded under the Public Instruction Act of 1880, had in 1881 established itself in buildings originally erected in 1815. The educational reform movement of the early twentieth century, which led to profound changes in the school syllabus, was headed by Peter Board, the first Director of Education, from 1905 uintil 1922. Post-primary education was greatly enhanced and a primary Qualifying Certificate introduced in 1911. All this created more bureaucratic activity and a new six-storied headquarters was begun in 1912 at the northern end of the block, directly opposite the Lands Department in Loftus Street.

The architect for the new Education building was the government architect, George McRae, a Scot in his fifties who had succeeded Vernon in 1911. The building, with walls of Maroubra stone, erected by the Public Works Building Construction Branch, was ready for occupation in 1915.

The southern half of the block was cleared and the second half of the Education building begun in 1929, although it was principally occupied by the Department of Agriculture. McRae had died in 1923 and his successors, Blair (1923-6) and Wells (1927-9), had short tenures. The architects for the 1929-30 building were not from the government architect’s office but were John Reid and Son, who adhered closely, however, to McRae’s general strategy of 1912. The contractors were Kell and Rigby.

The Department of Agriculture remained in the south wing and were joined by the Department of Technical Education until both were replaced by an aggressively expanding Department of Education after 1967.

In 1990 the Department of Education itself moved to Parramatta and the whole building remained disused until the Department returned in 1996.

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
This prominent site in the government-dominated part of Bridge Street has high significance, having housed the central bureaucracy of the state’s education system for nearly 120 years and for nearly forty years the state’s agriculture ministry. . The present buildings have particular significance because of their association with the sweeping changes in educational policy implemented under the first Director of Education, Peter Board. Has historic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The present building is associated with notable government architect George McRae, designer (as City Architect) of the Queen Victoria Building.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Education Department building is a fine example of the Federation Academic Classical style, confidently executed in Sydney sandstone. It contains well detailed and richly finished interiors in the main entrance foyers and stairs. The building is also part of an important sandstone streetscape in Bridge Street, stretching from the Lands Department to the Chief Secretary's building. Has aesthetic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria f)
The building is a landmark in Bridge Street, and links the other major government buildings on the southern side. Is rare at a State level.
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:

General: The building should preferably remain as the head office for the Education Department in NSW. If not, the preferred occupant would be another government department. All of the significant spaces and fabric should be retained. No further addition should be made to the building which would adversely affect the aesthetic value of the façade, the courtyard or the streetscape generally. Future use and changes to the building should be guided by the conservation plan, which should be regularly reviewed and updated. Exterior: All facades and early external features of the building should be retained and conserved. Surfaces never intended for painting, notably sandstone and copper, should remain unpainted, while surfaces such as wrought iron and timber which were originally painted should continue to be painted in appropriate colours. Interior: The significant interiors and artefacts of the building should be preserved intact. Some adaptation of interiors is acceptable to enable the building fulfil its original function, provided it does not detract from the significance of the façade or significant interiors.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney Local Environmental Plan 2012I168414 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  NSW Crown Property Portfolio Heritage and Conservation Register 2040 Documentary references Jan Burnswoods and Jim Fletcher, Sydney and the Bush: A Pictorial History of Education in New South Wales, Sydney 1980, 98-100, 138-41. Chris Johnson, Shap
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenHoward Tanner & Associates with Terry Kass,1989Heritage Impact Statement Jackson Teece Chesterman Willis PL, 'Conservation Plan, Wales House', report 1990
WrittenJackson Teece Chesterman Willis Pty Ltd1990Conservation Plan "Wales House" Jackson Teece Chesterman Willis PL, 'Conservation Plan, Wales House', report 1990

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

(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2423733

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