Archive for May 11th, 2013

UA1-WA:P1-p1 Visit to a classical building


Hyde Park Barracks. Front (west)

The final section of Project 1 is a visit to a classical building. The key skills required are: observe, describe, comment. I chose Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney as the subject building for this visit.

Selection of building

The requirements called for a classical building, not a church, with interior fully accessible if possible. Although I have written previously about Sydney architecture displaying classical orders (13-Apr-2013), the building interiors are generally not accessible to the public or heavily modified and extended even to the point of being merely a facade to a modern building.

Elizabeth Bay House ( was one possibility. It was built 1835-39 in the Greek Revival style, conceived as “the finest house in the colony” (1), and is now open to the public as part of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW. However due to the financial situation of the owner, Alexander Macleay, the building was never completed as planned, the intended colonnade was not constructed and all original furnishings and decorations were sold off.

The Hyde Park Barracks, also cared for by the Historic Houses Trust, was built in 1819 to house convict men and boys. It has a significant place in Sydney’s history of architecture and town planning. At one point the Barracks were surrounded and almost overwhelmed by attached buildings, but these have now been removed leaving a largely original structure. The interior is fully accessible, and while this is sparse with no artworks to be seen this is appropriate to the original function of the building. I believe it displays elements of classical buildings.

Description of building – exterior

The Barracks are built of brick on a stone base. It could be (has been) described as a large barn, or as a temple. Brick pilasters divide the front and rear facades vertically into three equal parts, and the sides into ten parts. The pediment contains a clock. The deep soffits and stone base act as protection to the bricks in heavy rain. Although there is virtually no overt ornamentation or enrichment of the exterior the effect is imposing and attractive.

classical_building_02There is a strict geometry to the building, based on the square. My photograph, taken from street level, makes this difficult to see. The guidelines shown are based on a diagram in Herman (1954).

classical_building_03The square is used at all levels of detail, down to the panes of glass in the windows.


Southern side

The building is a simple rectangle. At first glance the division of the sides with brick pilasters repeats the front, but there is a slight adjustment to proportions and size. The photograph on the right also shows the small bell turret at the front (not in the original plan), a central dome providing ventilation, and four apparent chimneys. The two at the front are connected to fireplaces. I believe the two at the rear may be entirely to provide symmetry.


Rear and north east corner

The rear of the building repeats the front without any ornamentation in the pediment. In the photograph on the left it can be seen that at the ground level windows and doors fit into semi-circular recesses. At front and back the windows are rectangular – one and a half squares on the first two levels, a square at the top level. At the sides the ground level windows are two squares surmounted by a semi-circular light, the upper levels as on the back and front. Bright red bricks are used at window heads and arches. Courses of stone are the only other ornamentation.

Description of building – interior
classical_building_07Internal division is very simple – four rooms on each level separated by corridors which run the length and width of the building. There is no artwork, no decorative moldings.

Original stairs - north side

Original stairs – north side

The original stairs and balustrade on the north side display the same practical, functional and plain treatment. However here the walls are smoothly plastered and detailing has been added with paintwork. These treatments were added later in the building’s history.

classical_building_08The purpose of the building was to house convicts and all twelve rooms were used for that. This photo shows the south east room on the top floor, complete with a reconstruction of the wooden frame and hammocks similar to those that would have been used. I think this room has 70 hammocks, and in actual use would have had twice that number with a second layer above these.
classical_building_09The roof trusses look wonderful. You may also be able to pick out the corbelled brickwork which carries the chimney stacks. At the end of the corridor in this photograph is the box for the clock pendulum.

The architect and the Governor
Hyde Park Barracks were designed by Francis Greenway, arguably one of the greatest names in Australian architecture. Greenway arrived in Sydney in 1814. An architect in Bristol, he had been convicted of forgery and transported for life. Lachlan Macquarie was Governor of the colony from 1810 and brought great energy and vision to the role. He instituted a major series of public building works that began a transformation of the ramshackle town, bringing order, imposing authority and providing buildings of function and substance. In Greenway Macquarie found an architect able to share, interpret and implement his vision. Over five years from 1816, when Macquarie appointed Greenway as Civil Architect and Assistant Engineer, Greenway designed and oversaw the construction of major buildings in Sydney and surrounding townships.

City design
classical_building_11classical_building_10Macquarie’s and Greenway’s vision went beyond individual buildings to city design. Above and to the left are matching photographs looking across Queen Square, defined by the Barracks to the east and St James church to the west. This was the first civic square in the colony and the direct relationship of the two buildings is immediately apparent, forming an axis at right angles to the grand boulevarde of Macquarie Street.
classical_building_12St James was completed in 1822 and the hand of the same architect is clearly visible in the bricks, window arches, pilasters, courses of stone and other details.

Fit for purpose
However there are also clear differences. Hyde Park Barracks was built to house convicts. Prior to its construction convicts were responsible to find and pay for their own board and lodging in the town. There is little to the architecture that could be regarded as ornamental.
classical_building_13St James was originally designed as law courts, and redesignated a church (a symbol of state authority) early during building. In it Classical design is more clearly evident, including a portico with Doric columns and entablature, although more elaborate details originally planned did not eventuate.

Macquarie granted Greenway a full pardon following the building of the Hyde Park Barracks. However the British Government did not agree that they were fit for purpose. Macquarie was denounced for the extravagance of his building program. A Commissioner was sent out, Macquarie dismissed, and his relationship with Greenway ended in acrimony.

Later history of the building
The Barracks were used to house male convicts until 1848. Later occupants include a female immigration depot (including Irish female orphans), Master in Lunacy, Supreme Court judges, Wheat Acquisition board and Industrial Commission of NSW. The original mustering area surrounding the Barracks was filled by a multitude of extensions and additional buildings. Eventually, after archeological excavations and extensive conservation it was opened as a museum in 1984.


(1) Carlin, S. (2000) Elizabeth Bay House: A history & guide Glebe: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales.

Dunn, M. (2008) St James Anglican church Queens Square [Online]. Dictionary of Sydney website. Available from [Accessed 10 May 2013]
Freeland, J.M. (1972) Architecture in Australia Ringwood: Penguin Books Australia.
Herman, M. (1954) The early Australian architects and their work Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
Historic Houses Trust (2003) Hyde Park Barracks Museum Guidebook [online] Available from: [Accessed 9 May 2013]
Summerson, J. (2002) The Classical Language of Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson.

UA1-WA:P1-p1 Visit to a classical building
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part one: Classical and religious art.
Project one: Ancient Greece.
Topic: Visit to a classical building


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