Ultimo Power House | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Ultimo Power House

Item details

Name of item: Ultimo Power House
Other name/s: Ultimo Power House, Ultimo Power Station; Powerhouse Museum
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Utilities - Electricity
Category: Electricity Generator/Power Station - coal/gas/oil
Location: Lat: -33.87812 Long: 151.19976
Primary address: 500 Harris Street, Ultimo, NSW 2007
Parish: St Andrew
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT1 DP631345

Boundary:

The boundary is within the property boundary for Lot 1 DP 631345. The boundary comprises the four main interconnected heritage buildings being the Engine House and Turbine Hall, Second Boiler House, Office Building and Switch Hall.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
500 Harris StreetUltimoSydneySt AndrewCumberlandPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Trustees of the Museum of Applied Arts and ScienceState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Ultimo Power House is of state significance historically for being the first large state-owned electricity generating station in NSW and the original generating station for the supply of electricity to power the electric tramway network throughout Sydney. It was one of the largest and most important generating stations in NSW for many years. It was the site where most major technological advancements in electrical generation, including steam turbines and large-scale, alternating-current generation, were trialled by NSW electricity authorities. The station also played a major part in the development of the Ultimo/Pyrmont area.

This Federation power station has associations with the electrification of the suburban tramway and railway systems and with the general reticulation of electrical power in Sydney. The power house also supplied power to and has close association with Pyrmont Bridge (SHR No. 1618), Glebe Island Bridge (SHR No. 1914), Sewage Pumping Station No.1 (SHR No. 1336) at Ultimo (and 15 other low level sewage pumping stations in Sydney).

The power house is of state heritage significance for its major part in the 20th century development of the Ultimo/Pyrmont area and in the wider heritage conservation movement in NSW. The transition of a major industrial location to a cultural, educational and tourism precinct was part of the Darling Harbour Bicentennial citywide adaptation project.

The historical purpose and function of the former power station is readable today through the building fabric, structure, in-situ engineering structures, gantry cranes and chimney bases.

These power station buildings are of state significance as a landmark group of buildings which relate closely to the visual and architectural industrial context of the area. It is of museological and architectural significance as a landmark early example of the adaptive reuse of a large-scale industrial heritage site, which was then a radical and exhilarating new approach to museum making for NSW. The transformation of the Power House through conservation and adaptation was recognised with several awards and was influential in the urban design of the later buildings in the precinct. It's fabric, form and uses is held in demonstrable public esteem by engineers, architects, museum associates and the wider public.
Date significance updated: 20 Jul 20
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.

Description

Designer/Maker: NSW Railway Commissioners/NSW Department of Public Works
Builder/Maker: J. Stewart and Co. Sydney
Construction years: 1897-1987
Physical description: The remains of the Ultimo Tramways Power House principally comprise four interconnected buildings which were the Engine Room and Turbine Hall, the (2nd) Boiler House, the Office Building and the Switch House. Adapted to house the Powerhouse Museum, the buildings survive largely as external shells. The building envelopes are largely intact but most of the internal fittings and fixtures have been removed. The adaptive re-use of the buildings saved them from further deterioration and eventual demolition.

OFFICE BUILDING
The Office Building is a three storey symmetrical building, 30rm wide and 14m deep, with seven bays, built in a simplified Italian Renaissance Classical style. It faces William Henry Street and is partly obscured by the William Henry Street Bridge. The rusticated stone base supports a stone plinth on which sits the brick superstructure. The articulation continues in the form of brick pilasters with a sandstone entablature, above which is a brick parapet. On the ground floor, window mullions are in the form of classical pilasters, while on the top floor they are plain. Beneath each window is a spandrel infilled with bricks in herringbone pattern. The frontispiece is in the form of an aedicule two stories high, with large-scale stone pilasters on stone pedestals, surmounted by a pediment. Within the frontispiece is an entrance having semicircular arch with a console keystone. The principal feature in the aedicule is the spandrel which identifies the building's ownership as the New South Wales Government Transport Department (NSWGTD). Surrounding the name of the building is a band of lightning bolts, a stylised representation of electricity, which passes behind a decorated floriated crest incorporating the Southern Cross. The spandrel was once surmounted by a leadlight window which bore the State Coat of Arms. On the top floor, each pair of pilasters, on the east and west ends, is gathered over a semi-circular opening which makes the semi-circular arched windows appear recessed. The building has a distinguished architectural composition shown in brickwork, windows and facades. The bricks are very fine plastic-moulded and have a warm red-brown colour and pointed with a light red-brown mortar. The work throughout is English bond except in the spandrels where it is herringboned. The robust cedar window joinery is very fine and is consistent with the time of building. The repetition of the pilasters, spandrels and windows on the north, east, and west facades adds to the careful ornamentation of the building. All that remains of the old boiler house on the eastern side of the Office Building is the remains of the first chimney stack and the flashing outline of the gable roof in the brickwork of the second boiler house.
Decorative stonework and brickwork on the northern faade of the Office Building are still in very good condition.

THE ENGINE ROOM
Contemporaneous with the Office Building but different in concept and design is the Engine Room. It is approximately 30m wide and 30m deep and is, in effect, an extension of the Office Building. The bricks, still laid in English bond, are brown-grey and the character of the building is much more utilitarian. The pilasters are strengthening devices and divide the west front (the building's only facade) into five bays with paired windows. The openings of the metal framed windows are segmental-arched and each brick sill runs the length of the window only and not the length of the bay, as on the office building. The facade is completed by a parapet which conceals the box guttering. Beneath the parapet is a double stringcourse of brickwork.
The Engine Room retains many features; the overhead Case gantry cranes remain intact and in place; the white wall tiles were retained, and the floor was finished with tiles carefully matched to the originals; a hole in the eastern wall remains where a pipe carried steam from the Boiler House, and nearby there is a counter-weighted mechanism on the wall that once supported the pipe; the spherical glass light shades are reproductions of those seen in early photographs of the room; the switchboard gallery on the northern wall is mostly original, including one of two staircases and the cast-iron columns with decorative brackets that support the cast-iron floor plates; the other staircase and the wooden balustrades are reproductions. These remaining features inform how the space operated.

THE TURBINE HALL
The Turbine Hall, an extension eastwards of the Engine Room, is a very simple, very strong expression of the utilitarian architecture of the early 20th century and one of the prime large examples of Edwardian industrial architecture in Sydney. Its size, 56m x 31m, reflects the size of the turbo alternators it was designed to house. The facade is divided into eight bays, which are further proportioned by a horizontal band which divides the facade into sixteen elements. The west facade's principal quality is its sheer scale which is enhanced by very carefully controlled simplicity. Emphasising the main articulation of the facade is a moulded stone stringcourse at the sill level of the upper windows and a moulded stone cornice capping the top of the parapet. The main elements are the very tall, semi-circular headed windows.
These main windows have stone sills and the window bays, flanked by pilasters, terminate in stepped brick corbels and are surmounted by a stone gable cornice.
The overhead Goninan gantry crane that served the Turbine Hall is still in place, complete with the high-level rails along which it ran.

THE SWITCH HOUSE
The Switch House is a brick building, three stories on the east and two stories above ground level on the west. The west facade is divided into seven bays, the northernmost of which is given emphasis by means of a dentillated gable which incorporates a centrally-placed circular motif with herringbone infill. The remainder of the building features a dentillated segmented extension of the parapet. The brickwork between each pair of windows extends even higher and terminates in dentillated bracketed caps. All dressings, sills, lintels and caps are of rendered concrete.
The viewing window from the Switch House, which allowed control staff to keep watch over the generating equipment, is still in place. Decorative stonework and brickwork on the on the Switch House are still in very good condition.

THE SECOND BOILER HOUSE
The Second Boiler House is the largest building in the complex, 83m long and 23m wide, and has the largest continuous facade to the east. The three tiers of windows, arranged in thirteen bays, are a vigorous architectural solution to the problem of dealing with a very tall facade. The height from string course to plinth is much greater than on the west facade of the Turbine Hall, which it complements. The thirteen bays are evident on the top tier of the building, above the string course. Below that, the fourth and fifth bays from the north end were combined to form a tripartite entrance bay, which allowed access to rail trucks on the east siding. The south facade of the Boiler House, although abutting the Turbine Hall and matching it in size, was treated somewhat differently, preserving the individuality of the building. The pilasters, their terminations in stepped corbels and the gable cornices are the same but the windows are smaller, arranged in two tiers and segmental-headed, as on the east facade.
The tall, roof-high stumps of two of the three brick chimneys are still in place (the upper parts having been demolished before the museum project was proposed) and in excellent condition, towering over the Boiler House. One is used as part of the museum's air-conditioning system, and the other houses stairs that allow access to the roof.

THE WATER COOLING SYSTEM AND MANIFOLD
The Water Cooling System and Manifold are an integral component of the power station. The system is underground and is not visible. Underground conduits possibly built of sandstone taking cool water to the Powerhouse from Darling Harbour waters edge and hot water from the Powerhouse to the waters edge. Remains of the engineering equipment/manifold of this cooling system are located in the carpark of the Novotel accessed from Murray Street.
Two of the underground tunnels, which brought cooling water from Darling Harbour to condense steam, and returned the warm water to its source, are still in use as part of the museum's air-conditioning system.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Good Condition
Date condition updated:02 Dec 15
Modifications and dates: Numerous modifications between 1899 and 1988. See History and Intergirty/Intactness
Further information: Adapted to house the Powerhouse Museum, the building envelopes
are largely intact but most of the internal fittings and fixtures have been removed.
Current use: Museum of Arts and Technology
Former use: Aboriginal land, farm, commercial/residential, Electricity generating station

History

Historical notes: The site sits on the land originally occupied by Aboriginal people of the Cadigal, Gommerigal and/or Wangal clans of the Eora Nation.

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 (Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/barani).

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 (Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/barani).

Ultimo forms the southern half of the Pyrmont peninsula, bounded by Darling Harbour on the east, Blackwattle Bay on the west and Broadway on the south. It became part of the estate of the surgeon John Harris in 1803. The sandstone ridge that is the spine of the Pyrmont peninsula was covered at the Ultimo end by rich alluvial soil. This had attracted some early market gardens, however Harris's vision for his property was not development, but the creation of a country seat.

Industries were attracted to the watercourses in the area and Harris moved to rural land further west in 1821 and his Ultimo house was rented out. By the 1840s the property was being surrounded by industry, small commercial properties and abattoirs toward Blackwattle Creek. From the 1850s onwards the area was filled with cramped quarters, people living cheek by jowl with domestic animals, with no fresh water or sewerage, but any amount of flooding. Refuse and offal from the slaughter yards was intended to be taken out on the tide, but often remained to rot on the mudflats.

In 1859 (after John Harris' death in 1838) the Harris family distributed land to a number of second- and third-generation family members. There were a few cottage-dwellers dotted around, using the land under grace and favour to run a few cattle or do a little local quarrying, while contemporary reports indicate that the area was so unsettled as to remain hospitable to Aboriginal people who still frequented the area.

The opening of the Pyrmont Bridge in 1858 made the peninsula more accessible, but this also had the effect of allowing traffic to bypass the Ultimo end of it. Local protest persuaded the bridge company to include a central swing span in the bridge, so that ships could still get to the upper reaches of Darling Harbour, and in 1853 the Sydney Railway Company acquired seven acres (three hectares) from the Harris estate, to build a rail terminus and goods yards. The line was opened in 1855, but as it did not extend to connect with the Pyrmont Bridge, the volume of goods passing through the yards was slight.

The Saunders family quarries business began in Pyrmont at an opportune time, as the gold rushes of the 1850s sparked a building boom and Pyrmont was the source of some of the best building stone. Charles Saunders started quarrying sandstone in 1853, creating three quarries nicknamed Paradise, Purgatory and Hellhole. His son Robert took over in 1880 and the quarrying was further expanded with the introduction of steam drilling. In the second half of the nineteenth century, much of the western side of the peninsula was quarried for stone to build Sydney's finest buildings.

From 1875 Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR) dominated the northern tip of the peninsula. The company created work, controlled housing and polluted the air and water. By the 1870s the wool industry was successful and expanding rapidly. Wool auctions were transferred from London to Sydney, requiring city storage. The Circular Quay wool stores were no longer satisfactory. Ultimo, with its deep-water harbour, and Darling Harbour's Goods Line were ideal. The peninsula's first wool store was the Richard Goldsbrough warehouse built on the corner of Pyrmont and Fig Streets in 1883. Twenty wool stores were built in the 1880s on the peninsula.

In 1892 Sydney Technical College, on Mary Ann Street, was built, while the adjoining Technological Museum, fronting Harris Street, was opened in 1893. The college expanded into surrounding streets and newer buildings, eventually taking in the Harris' old Ultimo House. As the new century approached, the college, in various incarnations, provided a new focus for industrial Ultimo, and opened up the possibility of further education through night classes in practical and applied sciences for many locals.(The Dictionary of Sydney).

The staff and contents moved to Ultimo in November 1892. Maiden who still worked in 'the shed' in the Domain in the mornings, and in his Royal Mint office in the afternoons, delightedly advised Dr Daniel Morris, Director of (the Royal Botanic Garden,) Kew that 'a new building has been erected here at a cost of nearly 25,000 pounds and we go into it in a few months'. In January 1892 he inspected the new building finding it 'all but ready for handing over' and recommended that the basement be used 'at once for the storage of exhibits'. Some 40,000 exhibits, ranging from a delicate Doulton (china) vase to a sturdy Stephenson locomotive had to be appropriately packed and transported, together with office, workshop and laboratory equipment, showcases, framed pictures, a bulky and fragile herbarium, over 2000 maps, drawings and diagrams and over 3500 books. A decision on a contractor to pack and move the contents dragged into 1893 (Gilbert, 2001, 150-152).

On 4 August 1893, just 3 months after the old Museum was closed, the new one was opened. Sir Robert (NSW Governor) and Lady Duff, attended by private secretary and aide-de-camp, arrived at Ultimo to find a guard of honour of public school cadets, a school drum and fife band, several parliamentarians and officers of the Department of Public Instruction. Architect W.E. Kemp and Minister Suttor were there. Kemp provided a modest description:
'The style selectedcorresponds with that of the adjoining Technical College, and is an attempt to adapt the spirit of the Romanesque to the necessities and materials of the present day. The form of the building being necessarily for convenience, simple, no picturesque breaking up of outline could be attempted. The materials used principally being brick, effect has been sought by the harmony of colour; and this, by the use of such bricks as are easily obtainable, with a sparing use of stone to relieve the masses of darker and brighter colour of the brickwork, has it is thought, produced a simple and not unpleasing structure, which, though plain and massive, escapes the fault of heaviness. The building is 183' long by 50' wide, and has a basement storey under one half its length, three whole storeys 15' high, and an attic storey in the roof. Each floor is divided transversely into bays 16' wide, which, while providing separate compartments to facilitate the classification of the exhibits into groups also provideswall space on the cross partitions for the exhibition of maps, diagrams and other forms of exhibit The amount of floor spaceon each floor is 9150 square feet, and of wall space 6000 (square) feet, making in all 27.450 (square) feet of floor space and 182000 (square) feet of wall space, exclusive of the basement at the attic There is a protruding central portion which contains a handsome staircase, extending from the basement to the attic, and six large rooms for offices for the curator and his assistants. (ibid, 153-4).

The development of the tramway public transport system had its beginnings in a horse drawn tramway along Pitt Street between Circular Quay and the Redfern Railway Terminal, which opened in 1869. A steam powered network developed from the 1870s, first running through the city only, then rapidly expanding as a commuter service from suburban areas. Steep topography saw the addition of cable drawn trams in North Sydney and towards Rose Bay from the city during the 1880s. In 1893, the first complete electrically-powered tramway line opened on the north shore and its success led to the decision to adopt electric power for the tramway system overall. A single large electricity generating station was deemed necessary to provide this power and the first stage of the Ultimo Power Station opened in December 1899.

The first of the all-electric tramcar sheds, Ultimo Tram Depot, opened at the same time at the south end of the Power Station site. Conversion of the tramlines proceeded rapidly and expansion of the power station followed in stages. Sydney's electric trams proved very popular, tramlines shaped the city's development, and the system became one of the most extensive in the world.

Although an important transport link, the low Pyrmont Bridge (1858) kept ships off Darling Harbour at a time when increased exports made access vital. The solution was to rebuild the bridge, so it would open and allow ships through. The NSW Government bought the old toll bridge and held an international competition to commission a replacement. The new bridge, designed by Percy Allen, was eventually built in 1902 and was powered by electricity from the Ultimo Power Station.

By 1903 Ultimo was also powering other crucial city infrastructure including bright arc lights at metropolitan railway stations and shunting yards; the opening spans of the Pyrmont and Glebe Island bridges; grain elevators at Darling Island; machine tools, cranes and lights at Eveleigh Railway Workshops; and pumps for the city's low-level sewerage system, which served over 110,000 residents and improved public health. The station contributed to electrification of the city's heavy rail network, and it supplied bulk power to some Sydney suburbs and later to the State grid. (Debbie Rudder)

Pyrmont Power Station was built by the Electric Lighting Department of the Municipal Council of Sydney and began operations in 1904 as the Sydney Electric Lighting Station.

By 1905, Pyrmont and Ultimo were providing Sydney with power for its lights and trams. They were thriving industrial suburbs and centres for the distribution of Australian wool, flour, milk, sugar and other foodstuffs with a combined population of nineteen thousand. Rail connected the suburbs to the port, trams took workers to their jobs. The railway yards, wharves, wool stores, power stations and mills created employment for residents.

In 1905, Ultimo Power House was the first place where turbine-driven alternators were tried in Australia and it was, until the 1940s, the location where the first examples of most major developments in power generation technology, including mechanical boiler feed and, later, the use of pulverised coal, were tried in Australia. It was also amongst the largest of any generating stations operating in Australia until the 1940s. It was a major employer and its function of power generation brought further development to the surrounding area. At the same time, its landmark chimneys were the source of ash fallout problems for local people.

The first generation of equipment at Ultimo consisted of boilers made in Sydney and engines, generators and cranes made in the USA. As there were then only 3 power stations with greater output, all of them in the USA, Ultimo was a source of pride for Sydney's engineers, manufacturers and citizens. Building the power station and tram depot was a bold project carried out by NSW Public Works with the assistance of Australian contractors; the bricks, stonework, steelwork, wooden balustrades, and cast iron columns, staircases and floor-plates were made in Sydney. Later generations of equipment came from the USA, UK and Australia; the replacement of engines by steam turbines was the most important change and brought improved efficiency. Notably, turbo-generators for the station were made in Sydney in 1923, and an overhead crane for the Turbine Hall was made at Newcastle in 1929. In 1932 large mills were installed to pulverise coal, and all coal handling was converted to automatic processes; these changes again improved the station's efficiency. (Debbie Rudder).

In the 1920s, electrification of the suburban railway led to substantial extension and re-equipping of Ultimo Power House, and the White Bay Power Station also commenced operations as the second of the New South Wales (NSW) Railway and Tramways Department generating stations. These two worked closely together until the 1950s, when all the power generation facilities of the state were brought together under the NSW Electricity Commission, a central government authority formed to deal with the chronic post-war power shortages in NSW. As the interconnected network expanded and new generation power stations were completed and brought online, Ultimo's old machinery and city location saw its progressive redundancy and it closed in 1964. Allied to this was the closure of the tramway system, in favour of motor buses, which was underway from the 1950s and was complete by 1963. The power station was then gradually stripped, the landmark chimneys were demolished to the roof-line and the buildings lay dormant and damaged by elements, vandals and the chimneys demolition.

In 1979 a decision was made to use the Ultimo power house and the Ultimo tram depot, as the new location for the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) - formerly the Technological Museum, which had outgrown its nearby 1893 building. The adaptive re-use of the buildings saved them from further deterioration and eventual demolition. The power house was substantially modified for its use as the Powerhouse Museum. The adaptive reuse of the power house as a Museum was an important early heritage conservation activity following on from the Green Bans of the 1970s. Adaptive reuse is an important conservation activity and the adaptive reuse of the power house is an early amd o,portant example of this practice in Australia.

In 1984 the Darling Harbour Authority was formed by the Wran Government to redevelop the area. Modern day Darling Harbour was reborn as a tourist destination with museums, shops, restaurants, hotels and bars, and created as a gift to the people of NSW in celebration of Australia's bicentenary in 1988. This brought about major changes to Ultimo and Pyrmont. The new Powerhouse Museum was an integral part of this bicentenary project of national importance.

The development of the Powerhouse Museum within the cavernous spaces of the former Ultimo Power House presented a unique opportunity to interpret the Museum of Applied Arts and Science's transport and engineering collections that documented the technological revolution in power that occurred at the turn of the 20th Century within a space that was contemporary with that transformation. The interior of the buildings were cleared, with the exception of the gantry cranes and base of the two Boiler House chimneys (re-purposed for ventilation), new internal floors laid with reference to both the 1893 museum and the Garden Palace, spaces created and new buildings (the Wran Building and the Galleria) were erected on the western side. The Ultimo tram depot, adjacent to the power station, opened as Stage One in 1981 after extensive refurbishment. The Powerhouse Museum proper opened to the public in March 1988, as the flagship exhibition space of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, with the Ultimo tram depot (now known as the Harwood Building) becoming offices, workshops, and state of the art conservation laboratories and storage for the collection of the Museum of Applied Art and Sciences.

The spacial relationships in the power house conversion resulted from a collaborative process in the design development stage. The fit-for-purpose design includes the grand hall of the Boiler House being capable of displaying large scale aeronautical, space and ground transport exhibits, the interior cranes of the Turbine Hall and Engine Hall defining display areas and the arched volume of the new galleria, designed specifically to provide a grand setting for the Boulton & Watt engine and Locomotive No1, the first train in NSW.

The re-design of the power house into a museum won numerous awards including the Sir John Sulman Medal in 1988, the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) National President's Award for Recycled Buildings, the NSW AIA Chapter Belle Interiors Award for Interior Design and was a finalist for the National Sir Zelman Cowen Award. The Powerhouse Museum re-purposing of a former industrial complex influenced other adaptation projects in NSW, Australia and internationally. (e.g. Casula Powerhouse, Carriageworks in NSW; Brisbane Powerhouse, Longreach Powerhouse & Historical Museum. in Queensland; Spotswood Pumping Station conversion into Scienceworks, the Malthouse Theatre in Victoria; and adaptive reuse of Blackhawk Generating Station into Beloit College Powerhouse, Wisconsin USA.)

To help interpret the history of the buildings, the museum's collection includes photographs, archives and objects related to the power station, depot and tramways. Some objects relate to the Harris family, to working life and others to the public face of the power station and museum, including: full-size Sydney trams; models of NSW trams, electric locomotives and carriages; collections of tram destination rolls, tickets and photographs; a model of Pyrmont Bridge; architectural drawings of the Powerhouse; and the 1988 Sulman Medal. (Debbie Rudder). The Powerhouse is unique in being a museum devoted to applied arts, science and technology. Its nearest equivalents are the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, whose brief is 'art and design' and the Smithsonian Institution in America, which divides its operations between 19 separate museums. The diversity and extent of collections is noteable.

The Powerhouse Museum was the first of several post-modern developments in Ultimo, along with the ABC Centre and the University of Technology, that built on the area's history of education and led the way for newer and different industries centred around information and entertainment.

In 2015 the NSW State Government signaled the closure of the museum and its move, with the collection, to a new purpose-built facility at Parramatta. The Ultimo site was suggested for redevelopment whilst keeping a cultural use and presence. Create Infrastructure is the Government agency managing the new potential re-use and re-activation of the Museum of Applied Art and Sciences site. The heritage halls of the museum were expected toclose on 30 June 2020.

On 4 July 2020 the NSW state government announced it has abandoned plans to sell the Ultimo site and will now use the Parramatta site as a second Western Sydney location for the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the decision would ensure Sydney had two world-class museum sites, boosting the arts, tourism and employment. Ms Berejiklian said the decision meant the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences would soon boast four centres, being the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo, the Sydney Observatory at Observatory Hill, the Museums Discovery Centre at Castle Hill and the new museum at Parramatta.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Other open space-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Cultural - Coasts and coastal features supporting human activities-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Changing the environment-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Sydney and Australian Landmark-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes of institutions - productive and ornamental-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes of industrial production-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences Developing local landmarks-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences Providing a venue for significant events-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Industry-Activities associated with the manufacture, production and distribution of goods Energy supply industry-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Industry-Activities associated with the manufacture, production and distribution of goods Energy supply industry-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Building settlements, towns and cities-National Theme 4
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Adapted heritage building or structure-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal 1820s-1850s land grants-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Changing land uses - from suburban to urban-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Sub-division of large estates-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Early farming (Cattle grazing)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Administering and alienating Crown lands-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Changing land uses - from rural to suburban-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Resuming private lands for public purposes-
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 Early Sydney Street-
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 Subdivision of urban estates-
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 19th century suburban developments-
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 20th Century infrastructure-
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 20th Century infrastructure-
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 19th Century Infrastructure-
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 suburban 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 Suburban Consolidation-
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 Shaping coastal settlement-
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 Impacts of railways on urban form-
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 suburbia-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Working at enforced labour-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Working complex machinery and technologies-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Working on public infrastructure projects-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. Adult Education-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. Community education - adults, school excursions-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. Maintaining libraries and museums for educational purposes-
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. State government-
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. Local government-
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 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 - conserving cultural and natural heritage-
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 museums-
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 - administration of land-
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 - building and operating public infrastructure-
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. Industrial buildings-
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. Applying architectural design to utlilitarian structures-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Visiting heritage places-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Going to a museum-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Activities associated with relaxation and recreation-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Developing collections of items-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Gathering at landmark places to socialise-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Leisure-Includes tourism, resorts.
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Social institutions-Activities and organisational arrangements for the provision of social activities Community volunteering-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Social institutions-Activities and organisational arrangements for the provision of social activities Places of informal community gatherings-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Social institutions-Activities and organisational arrangements for the provision of social activities Developing and maintaining a local museum-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Social institutions-Activities and organisational arrangements for the provision of social activities Developing and maintaining a local museum-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Social institutions-Activities and organisational arrangements for the provision of social activities Developing local clubs and meeting places-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Ultimo Power House is of State significance because it was the first large state-owned electricity generating station in NSW and the original generating station for the supply of electricity to power the electric tramway network throughout Sydney.

It was one of the largest and most important generating stations in NSW from 1899 -1963, and has associations with the electrification of the suburban tramway and railway systems and with the general reticulation of electrical power in Sydney.

It was the site where most major technological advancements in electrical generation, including steam turbines and large-scale, alternating-current generation, were trialled by NSW electricity authorities.

The station also played a major part in the development of the Ultimo/Pyrmont area, contributing a significant new overlay and association to the Ultimo Power House site since 1988.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Ultimo Power House meets this criterion of State significance because the power station buildings are a landmark group of buildings which relate closely to the visual and architectural industrial context of the area. The Boiler House building was, in its day, one of the largest brickwork structures in the state and the chimneys were significant Sydney landmarks for seventy years.

It is of museological and architectural significance as a landmark early example of the adaptive reuse of a large-scale industrial heritage site, which was then a radical and exhilarating new approach to museum making for NSW. The transformation of the Power House through conservation and adaptation was recognised with several awards and has been influential in the urban design of the later buildings in the precinct.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Ultimo Power House's fabric, form and uses are held in demonstrable public esteem by engineers, architects, tourists, donors, educators, visitors and volunteers. The strong attachment to the site is represented through awards, listings, public visitation and campaigns for the retention of the buildings and their recognition at a State level.
Integrity/Intactness: The former Ultimo Power House complex has been substantially altered since its historic use and was a derelict asset open to the sky when acquired and transformed into the MAAS in 1988. After the closure in 1964 the main heritage brick buildings, including the Boiler Room and Turbine Hall, were largely stripped of remaining equipment and all associated moveable heritage elements, with new floors laid, roofing elements, and demolition of significant core elements (such as the Boiler Room chimneys in 1977), reducing the aesthetic appearance of the precinct.
Changes to make it suitable for a museum were made with its historical use in mind. The missing roofs were replaced, machinery pits were filled in to create a safe environment, and partial mezzanine floors were created to provide display space for smaller exhibitions. These changes, the 1988 Wran building, and other additions associated with adaptive reuse of the site, naturally had some impact on the heritage core buildings and their legibility and interpretation of former use. The remaining features, including overhead gantry cranes in the Engine Room and Turbine Hall, the base of the Boiler House chimneys, floor tiling in the Engine Room, decorative stonework of the Office and Switch House, give aid to the legibility and interpretation of former use.
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:

Recommendations

Management CategoryDescriptionDate Updated
Statutory InstrumentNominate for State Heritage Register (SHR) 

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentCMP The Powerhouse Museum, prepared by Architectural projects for Powerhouse Museum, dated November 2003. Copy of CMP held in Heritage Office Library - not endorsed or reviewed for endorsement Jun 29 2005
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
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.

FRANK SARTOR
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

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage RegisterUltimo Power House0204504 Sep 20 1991
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register     
Local Environmental PlanCity of SydneyI203114 Dec 12   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenDon Godden and Associates1984Ultimo Power House - History and Technology
WrittenFitzgerald, Deborah2015'Powerhouse is coming to town - Mega Museum to be moved to the West' View detail
WrittenGilbert, Lionel2001The Little Giant: the life and work of Joseph Henry Maiden, 1859-1925
WrittenGlendenning L1982The Power House Ultimo
WrittenGodden Mackay Pty Ltd1994Tramway Workshops, Depots and Substations - Survey and Assessment
WrittenHore, Allison2019'Powerhouse move on new timetable'
WrittenInstitution of Engineers Australia1994Nomination of Ultimo Power House as a site for an Historic Engineering Marker View detail
WrittenLoussikian, Kylar and Hutchinson, Samantha2020Hollywood historian to assess a rich heritage
WrittenMcDonald, John2020Silence won't save the Powerhouse: speak up now! View detail
ElectronicPeter Lonergan and Hugo Chan2020Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo. Independent heritage assessment commissioned by the Heritage Council of NSW View detail
WrittenSmith, Alexandra2020Powerhouse backflip
WrittenWinkworth, Kylie2019Policy, Power and the Cultural and Heritage Values of the Powerhouse Museum

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

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

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5055576
File number: EF15/19906


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