Main Building and Quadrangle Group, University of Sydney Including Interiors | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Main Building and Quadrangle Group, University of Sydney Including Interiors

Item details

Name of item: Main Building and Quadrangle Group, University of Sydney Including Interiors
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
University AvenueUniversity of SydneySydney  Alternate Address
Physics RoadUniversity of SydneySydney  Alternate Address
Eastern AvenueUniversity of SydneySydney  Alternate Address
Parramatta RoadUniversity of SydneySydney  Alternate Address
Fisher RoadUniversity of SydneySydney  Alternate Address

Statement of significance:

This group of Gothic Revival buildings, forming the Main Quadrangle is probably the most significant group of Gothic Revival buildings in Australia. Indicating the growth and development of the University of Sydney since its inception. The symbolic and functional heart of the University.

The first building of Australia's first university, designed on an impressive scale and in an architectural style traditionally associated with the highest standards of learning, the original building was a potent symbol of the vision and ambition of its founders, of their belief in the future of the colony and of the overriding importance of education in the age of responsible government.

The East Range and Great Hall have remained symbolically at the heart of the University throughout its history, despite substantial changes to the dynamics of the University campus and its building stock.
One of Australia's grandest secular buildings in the Gothic Revival style and, at the time of its construction, the largest public building in the Colony.

The focus of activity in the University until the 1960s and still the symbolic centre of the institution. Australia's grandest secular exercise in the Gothic Revival style. The precinct contains two significant, and largely intact Gothic Revival style interiors of international importance: The Great Hall, 1854-59, by the former Colonial Architect Edmund Blacket assisted by James Barnet and MacLaurin Hall (formerly the Fisher Library), 1902-09 by the Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon. The many historical associations of this group of buildings with both people and events, and its influence on the development of the colony, make it of national significance. Buildings have been designed and added to the precinct over an 80 year period, and have been homogeneous and sympathetic in character.
Date significance updated: 28 Oct 08
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: Edmund Blacket; James Barnet
Builder/Maker: Refer to individual sheets
Construction years: 1855-1862
Physical description: Main Building and Quadrangle Group includes; the Main Building, two and three storey sandstone Victorian Academic Gothic style building, c.1854 with later additions including the Great Hall and Nicholson Museum (SSLEP 1998 Schedule 2).

A series of two storey sandstone wings, some with attic storey and dormer windows, enclosing a quadrangle. The south range is Walter Liberty Vernon's interpretation of Gothic, with slate roofs and Tudor revival style chimneys. Maclaurin Hall has a steeply ribbed copper roof, topped by an elaborate copper/muntz metal lantern. A cloister follows the quadrangle facade of the south wing, returning to the east and the west. The West Range, by Professor L Wilkinson is Medieval Tudor Revival in style. The cloister extends to the central towers at the east and west archways into the quadrangle. The North Range is a continuation of West Range with final link to Great Hall. It does not have a cloister. All of the facades to the quadrangle feature a crenellated parapet, bossed string courses and ashlar stonework. The c. 1910 buildings have elaborate leadlight windows with coloured glass. The more recent buildings by Wilkinson have metal windows. The copper rainwater heads generally bear the date of construction of each section of the quadrangle.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Refer to the 1999 University of Sydney Heritage Fabric Survey
Date condition updated:18 Aug 00
Modifications and dates: 1902-1909 - Maclaurin Hall
1913-1918 - South Range
1920s - North-West Range
1966 - West Tower
Further information: An in-depth study of the Gothic Revival buildings at the University of Sydney is required to assess their relative levels of significance on an international level.

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
Former use: Grose Farm


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 general history of the University of Sydney refer to Heritage Inventory No. 2431001.

The main quadrangle was commenced in 1855 with the construction of the East Range and the Great Hall. Plans for a southern range were abandoned due to the lack of funds and it was not until after the turn of the century that construction of Fisher Library (now MacLaurin Hall) was commenced. Further additions were made in 1913-1918 and the 1920s. The east side of the western tower was completed in 1963-1966. A cloister was partially constructed. Although schemes have been prepared by various architects including Leslie Wilkinson to complete the cloister, this work has not been undertaken.

Following the Inauguration of the University of Sydney on 11 October 1852 and the matriculation of the first students, the Senate applied to the government 'for a suitable site of land on which to erect a proper suite of buildings' and for a grant 'to defray the necessary expenses connected therewith'. A site at Grose Farm was offered by the government and by the end of 1854 the boundaries had been determined, confirmed by Crown Grant dated 18 January 1855. The Senate's architect was Edmund Blacket appointed in May 1854 after resigning his position as Colonial Architect. Chosen for his particular skills in Gothic architecture, it was this style which Blacket recommended for the new university as particularly associated with study and learning. As was usual at the time, Blacket's work included the 'careful selection of archaeologically correct detailing to give it appropriate atmosphere'. Various sources can be identified from contemporary publications.

The first plans and designs were discussed by the Senate in June 1854. By September it had been decided to construct the eastern range with a central tower and open archway and the Great Hall. A watercolour by Conrad Martens provides the only evidence for Blacket's larger plan. Work began on the foundations in January 1855 and stone was chosen as the building material. James Barnet was Blacket's clerk of works. By the end of 1857 teaching had begun in the unfinished building. The Great Hall was first used on 18 July 1859, effectively the public opening of the buildings at Grose Farm although work did not finish until 1862 when the tower was completed and all funds were exhausted. As originally designed the north end of the eastern range accommodated classics, the Registrar's office and retiring rooms for students and professors and the southern end lecture rooms for mathematics, chemistry and physics and a laboratory. The Great Hall was one of the most imposing buildings in the Colony and attracted an appeal for donations of stained glass windows. A complete series was specially designed in 1858 by Clayton and Bell. Marble flooring was installed in the Hall in 1875, gaslight in 1884 and electric lighting in 1928. The roof of the Great Hall was damaged by fire on 15 August 1951.

The War Memorial Carillon [See Carillon] was installed in the tower in 1927-1928. A fire which broke out in the roof space at the south-east corner of the quadrangle on 24 February 1989 damaged part of the east and south range.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. (none)-
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)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Main Quadrangle indicates the growth and development of the University and the expansion of its faculties and facilities. It remains the symbolic heart of the institution and is widely used by staff and students. The completion of the Main Quadrangle over 100 years after the construction of the Great Hall indicates how strong the original concept was.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
A homogeneous complex that is sympathetic and complementary to Blacket's original building. Although completed over a century after the completion of the East Range and the Great Hall the original design intention was followed, forming a traditional English collegiate grassed quadrangle. The main quadrangle is located within the Sydney University main building precinct, a precinct classified by the National Trust.

The Main Quadrangle is formed by a series of Gothic Revival buildings, probably the most important building group of this type in Australia. The quadrangle is the culmination of extensive planning and successive waves of building, each contributing to the whole. Indicating the spread of architectural ideas and the adoption of English models.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
For its continued use as a quadrangle.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Limited however features such as tanks survive beneath the Quad.
SHR Criteria f)
A rare example in Australia of a quadrangle modelled on English medieval colleges.
Integrity/Intactness: Substantially intact.
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 Management Plan for this area is recommended. Refer also to the 1999 University of Sydney Heritage Fabric Survey. Ensure that the impact of any proposal on the heritage significance of the buildings, and their setting, is assessed when planning new works. There is a draft CMP for the Main Quadrangle. 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 Local Environmental Plan 2012I8414 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  Original plans Blacket plans, Mitchell Library & Blacket papers, University Archives
Written  Register of the National Estate and National Trust Listing Cards
WrittenAnita Heiss "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenBertha McKenzie1989Stained Glass and Stone : the Gothic Buildings of the University of Sydney (Sydney University Monographs No. 5)
PhotographC Turney, U Bygott & P Chippendale1991Australia's First : a history of the University of Sydney Volume 1 1850-1939
WrittenDPWS Heritage Group and Otto Cserhalmi & Partners1999University of Sydney, Heritage Fabric Survey
PhotographGL Fischer1975The University of Sydney 1850-1975: Some history in pictures to mark the 125th year of its incorporation
WrittenJoan Kerr1983Our Great Victorian Architect Edmund Thomas Blacket (1817-1883)

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: 2431004

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