Nesca House | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Nesca House

Item details

Name of item: Nesca House
Other name/s: University House
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Manufacturing and Processing
Category: Industrial Office/Admin Building
Location: Lat: -32.9278868622 Long: 151.7712660290
Primary address: 300 King Street, Newcastle, NSW 2300
Parish: Newcastle
County: Northumberland
Local govt. area: Newcastle
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Awabakal
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT2 DP225689
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
300 King StreetNewcastleNewcastleNewcastleNorthumberlandPrimary Address
Auckland StreetNewcastleNewcastleNewcastleNorthumberlandAlternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
University of NewcastleUniversity29 Mar 99

Statement of significance:

NESCA House is of state significance as an outstanding Art Deco building by the architect Emil Sodersten. The House is evidence of Newcastle's shift from a coal port to a heavy industry city. It is also intimately linked to perceptions of electricity in the 1930s as a novel energy source that was the way of the future. The Art Deco style, rather than a more traditional building, is a reflection of these perceptions.
Date significance updated: 20 May 09
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: Emil Sodersteen in association with Pitt and Mereweather
Builder/Maker: Ratcliffe & Kirsopp
Construction years: 1937-1939
Physical description: N.E.S.C.A House was designed, by Emil Sodersteen, on contemporary English lines in keeping with the work of Wells Coates and George Coles (Collins, 1990; p5). Described as having a 'heavy, streamlined form', the 'new style was the streamlined functionalism of leading European architects' (Collins, 1990; p5). Structural drawings show the main buildings framework to be of concrete encased structural steel with mild steel reinforcing rods used throughout the structure. Concrete floors and some secondary floor beams appear to have been cast in-situ and were specified to use normal Portland cement, sand and course aggregate (Collins, 1990; p26).
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
N.E.S.C.A House is in good condition although some of the significant fabric is in need of repair or maintenance (Collins, 1990; 28). Some of the original fabric has also been removed or relocated.
Date condition updated:20 May 09
Modifications and dates: The exterior of N.E.S.C.A House was altered by the removal of the original curved glass front windows in 1979, due to damage by water leakage. Slight earthquake damage was sustained in 1989 which is 'cosmetic' in nature and readily repairable (Collins, 1990; p27).
Current use: University administration
Former use: Local government administration building, private offices


Historical notes: In 1890, Newcastle City Council began to generate electricity for street lighting, moving in 1892 to establish a district supply, providing electricity to other neighbouring councils and to private consumers (Collins, 1990, 3). With the opening of BHP Steelworks in 1915, industrial development stimulated population growth in the area resulting in an increasing demand for power. By 1937, the Council's Electricity Department 'was providing over 87 million kilowatt hours of power and attracting annual revenue of (Pounds)450,000' (Collins, 1990, 3).

Outgrowing its office space in Newcastle City Hall, council decided, in 1937, to 'construct a separate administrative centre' (Collins, 1990; 3) for the Electricity Department, to be situated adjacent to the Town Hall. Selected by the delegates, Mayor, Alderman H. Fenton and Electrical Engineer, Guy Allbut, Emil Sodersteen (his name was changed to Sodersten by deed poll in 1941), who in 1927 achieved national prominence by winning the design competition for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, was chosen as the architect to design the new building. His associates on the project were to be local architects, Pitt and Merewether.

The new building was to be designed to compliment the Town Hall (designed by theatre architect, H.E White) which was constructed in 1929. It needed to be, however, of a modern design, as Collins (1990; 4) explains: 'Electricity, which is now taken for granted completely, was still relatively novel in the 1930s. It was the age of electrical wonders, particularly of the cinema, and the documents explaining the building to the public are persuaded with the theme of progress through electricity. Thus, it would have been unthinkable for the Council's electricity administration centre to have been more traditional in design.' The new building would 'be modern, efficient, timesaving and functional', pulling together the city's many electrical departments into one building (Collins, 1990; 4). The building was to house a demonstration theatre, showroom, administrative and business offices and staff accommodation.

N.E.S.C.A House marks a new era in the architecture of Sodersten, his disillusionment with the skyscraper leading him to draw on English perspectives and European functional modernism for his future designs.

The interior decoration and layout of N.E.S.C.A House had much to do with Guy Allbut, who had toured American electrical facilities. Allbut was very taken with American perspectives and was a defining influence on the interior of the building.

Construction began in 1937 and, after significant delays due to water on the site and difficulty in obtaining the correct steel sections, the building was opened on 8 September 1938 by Hon. E.S. Spooner, former Minister for Works and Local Government.

In 1959 Shortland County Council assumed control of power supplies for the Hunter Region. In their new role they oversaw the construction of a three story addition to the rear of N.E.S.C.A House. During their tenure they also added a decorative tower in 1967 and in 1969 the theatre and demonstration centre were remodelled. Further remodelling occurred in 1970 when two floors were added to the 1959 addition and the original council chamber was revitalised for new purposes.

In 1979, in a move deplored by the National Trust, the curved windows were removed from the front of the building. The sandstone facing was also cleaned and re-caulked with silicone.

The Shortland County Council occupied the building until 1987, when the Council moved operations to Wallsend. In 1989, the building was used by Newcastle FM radio and by Suters Architects Snell, using the ground floor in 1990.

In 1995 the University of Newcastle established a library in the building. N.E.S.C.A House also houses collections of the Conservatorium: School of Music and Drama. More recently the building has also become the Graduate School of Business and the Newcastle Legal Centre. The building today is known as University House.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Communication-Activities relating to the creation and conveyance of information Utilities-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences Technologies for electrical supply-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Creating landmark structures and places in urban settings-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Developing civic infrastructure and amenity-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Utilities-Activities associated with the provision of services, especially on a communal basis Distributing electricity-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Developing roles for government - providing education-
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. Architectural styles and periods - 20th century Art Deco/Jazz Age-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Emil Sodersteen, architect-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
NESCA House is of State significance as evidence of the development of Newcastle from a coal port into a heavy industry city and the subsequent increase in importance to the State's economy.

The House is of State significance as evidence of the historical integration of electricity into society and the notion of "progress through electricity".

The House is of State significance as evidence of the practice of local government activities and the shift through local and regional to state electricity supply.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
NESCA House is of State significance as the work of Emil Sodersten, an eminent architect of the 20th century.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
NESCA House is of State significance as an outstanding example of Art Deco style with tendency towards Functional Modernism. It expresses the change from traditional design towards the concepts of modern efficiency, timesaving and functional designs.
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 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 commentCMP received from The University of Newcastle. Mar 12 2015

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0021702 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0021709 Nov 84 1575466
Local Environmental PlanNesca House 08 Aug 03 124 
National Trust of Australia register  4417   
Royal Australian Institute of Architects register     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Newcastle City Wide Heritage Study1996 Suters Architects Snell  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenCollins, Barry1990NESCA House

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: 5045739
File number: S90/01077 & HC 32403

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