Conservatorium of Music Including Interior and Grounds | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Conservatorium of Music Including Interior and Grounds

Item details

Name of item: Conservatorium of Music Including Interior and Grounds
Other name/s: Government House Stables
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Education
Category: School - State (public)
Location: Lat: -33.8649921040497 Long: 151.213327926978
Primary address: 1 Conservatorium Road, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
1 Conservatorium RoadSydneySydney  Primary Address
Macquarie StreetSydneySydney  Alternate Address

Statement of significance:

The Conservatorium was initially constructed as a Government stables, and is significant as the only part of Macquarie's Government house complex to be constructed.

It is of historic and aesthetic and scientific significance as a design commissioned by Governor Macquarie as part of his grand vision for the colony. Designed by the Colonial Architect Francis Greenway, the building has been heavily modified internally but externally remains a fine and rare example of the Old Colonial Gothick Picturesque style.

It is the only building of this style constructed in rendered brickwork in the city; Government House which is the only other city building in the style, and is constructed of sandstone.

The building has aesthetic significance as an important element in the streetscape of the Macquarie Street precinct and for its contribution to the character of the Domain/Royal Botanic Gardens area.

It has social significance due to its association with cultural and musical pursuits, and is the only one of its type in the city.
Date significance updated: 28 Feb 07
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: Francis Greenway; R. Seymour Wells (conversion to conservatorium)
Builder/Maker: Unknown
Construction years: 1819-1819
Physical description: The Conservatorium of Music is a prominently sited two storey rendered brick structure, comprising a castellated wall featuring octagonal towers, and central Auditorium structure with broken hipped slate clad roof.

The west facade features an awning installed over a pointed arched opening, with modern timber and plate glass entry doors which lead to a terrazzo floored entry foyer. There have been several additions to the building including a precast concrete panel high school to the north, and an L-shaped in-situ concrete addition accommodating offices and studios to the east.

Internally the building has been heavily modified including several face brick classroom additions. The central auditorium is a double height space with gallery supported by two cast iron columns at the western end, and a timber panelled coved ceiling. A graded timber floor leads to a timber stage. There is little original fabric remaining in the interior of the building.

Category: Individual Building. Style: Old Colonial Gothick Picturesque. Storeys: 2.
Facade: Face brick & render. Side/Rear Walls: Face brick & render. Internal Walls: Face brick & render. Roof Cladding: Slate tile, steel & copper sheeting. Internal Structure: Loadbearing walls & timber beams. Floor: Timber framing, reinf. conc. slab. Roof: Steel & timber framing. Ceilings: Lath & plaster, plasterbd., timber panelling and moulding. Stairs: Several sets of timber stairs leading to upper floor and gallery of main hall. Sprinkler System: Yes.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Generally the building is in fair condition. Internal walls on the lower level show evidence of rising damp and water damage. Some cracking is evident externally in the two front towers and the external wall panels of the concrete high school extension..AirConditioned:Yes Intrusive Elements:High school addition to the north and addition to the south and in particular the effect of the junction of the L shaped building to the original eastern facade.
Date condition updated:06 Dec 05
Modifications and dates: 1819-1821; 1913-1915
Further information: High Significance: The scale, form and detailing of external walls including the original timber framed windows, towers and crenellated parapets. Some internal spaces from the 1913 additions such as the Auditorium including coved ceiling and gallery. The roof structure of the boundary structure and Auditorium. Roof ventilators.
Medium Significance: External awnings over entrances on west and south facades. Internal rendered walls on the ground floor.
Low Significance: Internal infill structure and internal courtyard between the main building and the High School addition. Timber floors.

Was a heritage item in 1989 and remains an item 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: School, Hall
Former use: Stables


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 )

In 1817 Governor Macquarie resumed the site occupied by a bakehouse and mill. These buildings were considered inappropriate given the close proximity to first Government House at the corner of Phillip and Bridge Streets. He instructed Francis Greenway to prepare plans for a "Court of Offices and Stables" and a castellated house for the residence of the Governor. The foundation stone was laid by Governor Macquarie in December 1817, but he did not inform the British Government of the project for two years and the structure did not begin to rise until early 1819.

The scale and magnificence of the building which was intended to provide accommodation for horses and servants, caused controversy. Strong opposition was met from Commissioner Bigge sent out from London in 1819 to investigate the colony's affairs. Progress on the stables was therefore prohibited, and due to convict labour shortages the building was not completed until 1821.

The picturesque exterior featured crenellated parapets, lancet windows with tracery, pointed arched carriageways and octagonal towers. The walls of the stables were one room deep and enclosed a large quadrangle which contained a fountain. The inner walls of the quadrangle did not carry the Gothic theme but displayed Greenway's neo-classical style based on Georgian principles.

The building was the most prominent feature of the gardens and harbour until 1837 when the second Government House was constructed in the same style. The stables remained virtually as built until 1910 when the increasing use of the motor car and change of Government made the building redundant.

In 1912 the Government declared that the building be used as a museum. The Minister for Public Instruction intervened and proposed to establish an Academy of Fine Arts. This was later abandoned in favour of a specialist Conservatorium of Music. The new auditorium and school was officially opened in 1915. Several additions were made since.

"Following a major Review of the Conservatorium by The University of Sydney in 1994, significant structural changes were implemented. Amongst the numerous recommendations of the Review handed to the incoming Principal and Dean for implementation was "That negotiations with the NSW State Government about permanent suitable accommodation for the Conservatorium be pursued as a matter or urgency". This was no mean challenge, given the thirty year history of discussion, complaints and procrastination with respect to the increasingly appalling accommodation arrangements. But on the election of the Carr Government in early 1995, discussions began in earnest to solve the problem once and for all.

As in 1916, a wide range of sites were considered, many of them controversial. In May 1997, 180 years after Governor Lachlan Macquarie laid the foundation stone for the Greenway Building, the Premier of NSW, Hon Bob Carr MP announced one of the most significant initiatives in the Conservatorium's history, a major upgrade of the Conservatorium at its present site with the ultimate goal of creating a music education facility equal to or better than anything in the world. A team was assembled to work to that brief, resulting in a complex collaboration between various government departments (notably the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Public Works and Services), the Government Architect, US-based acoustic consultants Kirkegaard Associates, Daryl Jackson Robin Dyke Architects, the key users represented by the Principal and Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and the Principal of the Conservatorium High School, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust and many others.

The building process necessitated the relocation of the Conservatorium's performance activities and the Conservatorium High School to the Australian Technology Park in Eveleigh for the period of redevelopment from 1998 to mid-2001. With the Conservatorium's Composition, Music Education and Musicology Units housed in an office building in Pitt St, the challenges (which had existed since the 1970s) of a split campus connected only by an umbilical railway line from Redfern to Wynyard became acute.

By the time of the relocation, the historic Greenway building, Governor Macquarie's stables, had housed music students for longer than it had housed horses. Nevertheless heritage was a sensitive issue. The redevelopment has restored Greenway's historic castellated building, removing newer additions to discreetly complement, enhance and enlarge the public green space of the Royal Botanic Gardens.

For the city of Sydney it makes a major step towards the completion of the vision first enunciated by the then Conservatorium Director Eugene Goossens in 1947 when he lobbied Joe Cahill (Minister for Local Government, later Premier) for an Opera House on Bennelong Point to create a music precinct in the lower end of Macquarie Street.

For the Conservatorium, it provides facilities of outstanding acoustic and architectural quality in which to serve the music and wider communities, and to educate future generations of performers, musicologists, composers and music educators."


Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Conservatorium of Music is significant as a building originally constructed as the stables of the new Government House building for Governor Macquarie. It is significant as a design of the Colonial Architect, Francis Greenway. It has played a significant role in the history and development of the city through its association with government and cultural functions, and prominent persons. Has historic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
It has played a significant role in the history and development of the city through its association with government and cultural functions, and prominent persons.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Conservatorium has significance as a rare example of the evolutionary process in converting an early Old Colonial Gothick Picturesque stables building to a cultural building in Sydney. Has aesthetic significance at a State level.

Cultural: The building is a fine but altered example externally of the Old Colonial Gothick Picturesque style, which set the precedent for the style of the later Government House constructed in 1837. It has a strong visual connection with Government House. It is significant for the picturesque quality it gives to this area of Macquarie Street and the Government House precinct.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Conservatorium of Music is associated with the "cultural" growth and development of the city. It has significance due to its association with the Governors of the colony in the first 100 years, and with important members of the cultural community during the twentieth century. It has significance for its long association with and cultivation of cultural pursuits in the education system. Has social significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
High archaeological significance.
SHR Criteria f)
The Conservatorium of Music is a prominent landmark structure, and a rare example of the Old Gothic Picturesque style in the centre of the city. The building is a rare example of a cultural building originally designed as stables for Government House.
SHR Criteria g)
The Conservatorium of Music is representative as a fine (if altered) example of the early nineteenth century style used in an important colonial Government building.
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 existing conservation analysis should be incorporated into a conservation plan to guide the future works and maintenance of the place. Surviving original fabric of the stables building and Conservatorium remodelling such as the original external walls and 1913 extensions, should be conserved. Window and door openings should not be enlarged or filled in and replacements should be complementary to the style of the building. The form and scale of the building should be preserved with no alterations which break through the rooflines and parapets. Changes to the use of the building should be consistent with the retention of original external fabric and should not compromise the form, style or layout of the remaining original stables building. Intrusive elements such as the high school addition should be removed or rebuilt to a more sympathetic design when possible. Exterior: The materials and detail of the external facade should be retained intact. Significant features such as the castellated parapets, octagonal towers and roof structures should be retained and conserved. The rendered surface should continue to be painted in appropriate colours. Interior: Original spaces from the 1913 remodelling such as the auditorium, classrooms and offices should be retained and conserved. Areas which have since been modified can further altered provided significant original fabric and spaces are retained. The building should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, or a Conservation Management Plan, should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken. There shall be no vertical additions to the building and no alterations to the fa├žade of the building other than to reinstate original features. The principal room layout and planning configuration as well as significant internal original features including ceilings, cornices, joinery, flooring and fireplaces should be retained and conserved. Any additions and alterations should be confined to the rear in areas of less significance, should not be visibly prominent and shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I173014 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  Sydney City Council BAs and Das
Written Howard Tanner & Assoc.1992 Heritage Report
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenDr. Diane Collins2005Sounds from the Stables - The Story of Sydney's Conservatorium
WrittenEdward Higginbotham1992Archaeological report
WrittenHeritage Group. PWD1997Heritage Impact Assessment
WrittenHoward Tanner & Assoc.1999Heritage report
WrittenPWD1986 PWD Plans and "Conservatorium of Music Conservation Analysis"
WrittenSimpson, M.1995Old Sydney Buildings A Social History
WrittenTracey Ireland1998Archaeological report

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: 2423927

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

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