Department of Education Building | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Department of Education Building

Item details

Name of item: Department of Education Building
Other name/s: Education Building
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Government and Administration
Category: Office building
Location: Lat: -33.8638549136 Long: 151.2106685670
Primary address: 35-39 Bridge Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Parish: St James
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT56 DP729620
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
35-39 Bridge StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
NSW TreasuryState Government03 May 99

Statement of significance:

The Department of Education Building demonstrates Edwardian architectural style and planning concepts; its historic features reveal Edwardian taste and customs - for example, the grand sequence from entry porch to Ministerial Board Room. The Building, especially where it remains in original condition, a particularly fine example of an early 20th century government office building, featuring an innovative internal steel frame that allowed for future re-use.

It is an important example of the architecture of the period 1915-1930. While the original design determined the overall external effect, it is interesting to see purer Beaux Arts neo-classical details occurring in the 1929 Farrer Place porch and foyer, and simplified stonework details in this portion of the building. How much they reflect taste rather than economy is unclear.

The importance of education to NSW c.1915 is manifest in this building and its original budget. Various important figures such as Peter Board and Sir Harold Wyndham are also associated with it. The building as conceived and built, has a considerable degree of unity in its use of materials, form and scale. The external design is highly disciplined, and uses a limited palette of materials: Sydney sandstone, metal framed windows, copper-clad skylights. It makes a major contribution to this part of Sydney, visually linking with other imposing sandstone government buildings and enhancing a number of important city vistas. It clearly has townscape value.

(Department of Education Building, Howard Tanner & Associates in association with Terry Kass and Hughes Trueman Ludlow, 1989)
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
Construction years: 1912-1914
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)
Current use: office building, accommodation, scientific facility
Former use: Department of Education Administration


Historical notes: In 1810, Governor Lachlan Macquarie arrived in Australia. During his leadership he required the assistance of his Secretary John Thomas Campbell who he worked with consistently until 1813. On 24 December 1813, Governor Macquarie approved the plans of building a house and offices for Secretary Campbell designed by architect Daniel Dering Matthew. Campbell moved into the site in 1816 which offered him accommodation, clerical rooms and storage space for record functions of government. This move marked a growing maturity of governmental and administrative duties which for many decades, this building was the real nerve centre of the Colony's administration. Almost all enquiries of government, particularly written ones went to the Colonial Secretary's Office serving as a clearing house and the hub of the administrative functions of the State.

In 1875, the Colonial Secretarial Office moved into a new location and was taken over by the Department of Public Instruction in 1881. A variety of minor additions and repairs were made to the building however, it was too small and cramped for the offices of the Department of Public Instruction.

To house the officers of the Department a new building was erected on September 1912. The style followed James Barnet's construction of imposing masonry offices and Edwardian institutional architecture. The Department of Public Instruction changed its name to the Department of Education in 1915 which was subsequently responsible for new changes which substantially laid the foundations for educational practice in the next century. Around the same period, new theories about education emerged. Consequently, this building was pivotal for the many changes to the educational system which developed a whole series of new initiatives and strengthened the role of the Education Department. The government took a more active role in supervising private schools with registration and inspection increasing competition between public and private schools which led to the demise of several private schools. In this building a new syllabus was formed based on the New Education theory which interrelated subjects and stressed the importance of individual learning. Several changes were made to primary and secondary syllabuses over the years and numerous building initiatives were put forward.

In 1948 an experimental regional office was opened at Wagga Wagga to ease the load and pressure the Department was experiencing. The role of the school principal was also increased who looked after curriculum, staffing and finance. The school system had to cope with an enormous expansion in the number of students, a teacher shortage and a shortfall in school accommodation. Education was also effected by the increase in the non-English speaking student population. Thus, the Department's role after World War II considerably modified to issuing aims and objectives for schools rather than supervising each school's curriculum and subject content.

In 1890 the Department of Agriculture was formed only playing minor roles for many years. However a growing understanding for need of advice and establishment of research stations increased the Department's requirements for office space. Officers were scattered until 1929 when building commenced adjacent to the Department of Education Building. The building offered offices, accommodation and biological, entomological and chemical labs. The role of the Department offered advice for farmers for sound management practices, maintained quality control and was also responsible for agricultural education.

In 1978 the Department of Agriculture moved into the McKell building in Rawson so the building could be occupied by the Department of Education. Therefore, the Department of Education acquired more land and office space which enabled the Department to work more efficiently and effectively.

(Summarised from - Department of Education Building, Howard Tanner & Associates in association with Terry Kass and Hughes Trueman Ludlow, 1989)

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)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
This is an historic site, traditionally associated with a significant government purpose. In its present form it has been associated with a number of significant government Ministers and department heads. It has also been associated with the development of education and agriculture.

(Department of Education Building, Howard Tanner & Associates in association with Terry Kass and Hughes Trueman Ludlow, 1989)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
A remarkably fine set of Edwardian baroque sandstone elevations forming a complete city block and providing a landmark building to Bridge Street where it forms a group with the Lands Department and Chief Secretary's Office and the older portions of the Intercontinental hotel (the former Treasury). The fine external character and detailing is also found in several vestibules and several major interiors.

(Department of Education Building, Howard Tanner & Associates in association with Terry Kass and Hughes Trueman Ludlow, 1989)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
As a 'flagship' for the State's education system 1915-1990 the building has been long associated with key policy makers, teachers and pupils. The art gallery has been an important venue for many public meetings and exhibitions.

(Department of Education Building, Howard Tanner & Associates in association with Terry Kass and Hughes Trueman Ludlow, 1989)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
There may be some important scientific associations for both the Departments of Education and Agriculture but they have not been identified, although education theory, and agricultural research are obvious items.

(Department of Education Building, Howard Tanner & Associates in association with Terry Kass and Hughes Trueman Ludlow, 1989)
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.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act Record converted from HIS events

Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1):
(1) The maintenance of any building or item on the site where maintenance means the continuous protective care of existing fabric.
(2) The minor repair of the building where minor repair means the repair of existing materials and includes replacements of minor components such as individual bricks, where these have been damaged beyond reasonable repair or are missing. The replacement should be of the same material, colour, texture, form and design as the original it replaces.
(3) Alterations to the interior of the building, except insofar as such work would affect:
- the Bridge and Loftus Street Lobbies and associated stairwells;
- the Farrar Place Lobby;
- the Art Gallery, meeting room and associated stair;
- the Ministerial Board Room and Director General's Suite;
- the ground floor corridor;
- the top lit recreation area on level 7; and
- the external appearance of the building.
(4) Change of use.
(5) Subdivision.
Jun 22 1990
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentConservation Management Plan submitted for endorsement. Feb 9 2015
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementDepartment of Education Building, 35-39 Bridge Street, Conservation Management Plan Jun 7 2017

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0072602 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0072622 Jun 90 805185
Local Environmental PlanCSH Local Environmental Plan 4 07 Apr 00   
Register of the National Estate  21 Mar 78   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Colony Walking Tour View detail
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Colony Walking Tour View detail
WrittenHoward Tanner & Associates, in assoc with Terry Kass and Hughes Truman Ludlow1989A Report on heritage significance - Department of Education Building

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: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045558
File number: S90/02690 & HC 89/2185

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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