Sydney Architecture Images- The Rocks

Former Science House


Peddle, Thorp & Walker, Builder: John Grant and Sons, Master Builders


157-169 Gloucester Street The Rocks




Commercial Pallazo


Steel/Concrete frame, stone cladding base, brick shaft.


Office Building
Science House was opened on 7 May 1931 by the NSW Governor General, Sir Phillip Game as a co-operative venture between three of the major scientific organisations in NSW. A venue to share facilities & operate from a centralised headquarters had been discussed since the 1870s and in 1905 a committee was formed to that end, but World War 1 and lack of finances forestalled the plan until the 1920s. After the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and the Institution of Engineers built their Allied Societies Trust Building in Melbourne, The Royal Society of NSW, the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and the Linnaean Society of NSW decided to follow suit & formed a joint committee in 1926 to pursue the matter. When the site at the corner of Essex & Gloucester Sts was granted by the NSW Government in July 1927, an architectural competition was held by the Institute of Architects in 1928 with a 1st prize of 250 pounds. It was won by Peddle Thorp and Walker who designed a Commercial Italian Palazzo style building, one of the few in Sydney. The adjudicator’s report on the entry said the design was ‘Remarkably in accord with the Conditions, a special feature being its economy… The design shows cleverness, a though insight into the requirements of the promoters…The ground floor has been skilfully arranged to accommodate both Lecture Halls, and to meet the irregular angles in the boundaries of the site…the elevations are excellent and admirable suitable for the dignified purpose of the building.’ In June 1930 Governor Game laid the Foundation Stone & the building was completed in January 1931. It was constructed by John Grant & Sons who kept to the budget of 45 000 pounds but allowed enough structural integrity in the building for additional stories to be added in the future, and an additional lift to be installed. The 1st general meeting of the Royal Society of NSW was held in Science House on 6 May 1931. When the building was opened the three scientific bodies were joined by The Australian Chemical Institute, The Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, The Australian National Research Council, The Institute of Architects NSW, The Institution of Surveyors NSW and the Standards Association of Australia. The Council of the Institute of Architects of NSW decided that the inaugural Sir John Sulman medal (for 1932) should be for an institutional building and seven buildings were nominated. On 3 January 1933 it was announced that Peddle Thorp and Walker had been awarded the first Sulman Medal for the design of Science House. During World War 2 an Air Raid Shelter was constructed in a small hall on the ground floor. There were plans to extend the building an additional three storeys in 1953 but it did not eventuate. The building was occupied by the various scientific organisations from 1931 until 1976 and in 1978 the NSW Department of Sport and Recreation moved into the building which became known as ‘Sports House’ until they left in1991. During this time the large auditorium continued to be used for talks, and the building housed 11 000 books and journals and a 1000 films covering many areas of Sport. A Hall of Champions was installed in 1982, which included a Sports Museum to commemorate outstanding sportsmen and women of NSW. Major works were carried out on the building during 1995-96 and when they were complete, the Australian Centre for Languages occupied the building, remaining there until 2007.

Physical Description:

This listing includes the significant original interiors. Science House sits on the south-western corner of the intersection of Gloucester and Essex Streets at Church Hill, Sydney. Science House is a six storey building. The structure of the building is comprised of a concrete-encased steel frame of columns and reinforced concrete slabs. The external masonry walls of the building are non-load bearing and merely support their own weight. The design of the principal facades in Gloucester and Essex Streets are divided into three architectural zones mirroring the exaggerated ground floor, piano nobile and attic storey of the Florentine Early Renaissance palazzo type. At Science House the exaggerated 'ground storey' comprises the Ground Floor and Floor 1; the piano nobile Floors 2, 3 and 4 the attic storey, Floor 5. The exaggerated 'ground story' is built of fine quality ashlar sandstone masonry with rusticated joints. In Gloucester Street, the windows have semi-circular heads rising through two storeys. A decorative metal grille fills the semi-circular arches; below the windows have steel frames. The piano nobile at Science House is stretched through three floors and has the most simple architectural treatment. The walls are built of textured brick of subtle colour variations. The window apertures are regularly spaced in nine bays along Gloucester Street, four bays in Essex St. Each window aperture is comprised of a pair of identical double hung timber sash-windows each sash of six panels in the general design and portion of the Georgian style windows. The attic storey is more highly decorated. At window sill level a projecting square profile string course runs along the Gloucester and Essex Street facades. (See Howard 1991 pp15-21 for further detail). Style: Commercial Italian Renaissance Palazzo; Storeys: Six; Facade: Stone and face-brickwork; Internal Walls: The walls are largely undecorated and finished with painted plaster over brickwork.; Floor Frame: Timber (original); Roof Frame: Terracotta pan tiles; Ceilings: Moulded plasterwork embellished ceiling (the main lecture hall); Fire Stairs: South-western corner of the building.; Lifts: Two (opposite the entrance doors), original lift (southern side) Items of moveable heritage including chairs, projectors, heaters and numerous other items are temporarily stored in ASN Co Building, Bay 4, Circular Quay West (S Duyker 17.9.1999)

Science House is characteristic of the Inter war period Commercial Palazzo style of architecture with highly refined detailing both externall and internally. It is widely recognised even today as an outstanding example of its type. At the time of its construction it was so well regarded that it was the recipient of the first Sulman Award. It exhibits the principal characteristics of the style with a firm sandstone base with large arched windows, a plainer brick central protion with repetitive well proprtioned pattern of windows and strongly expressed top floor embellished with classical detail and elaborate cornice. The building is also an example of Neo Classical revival architecture in Australia and is an untainted model of the Commercial Palazzo style in Sydney. The facades are comparable to Louis Sullivan's treatment of the tripartite façade which draws parallels with the base, shaft and capital of a column. The facades also reflect the five principles described by Richard Apperly for identifying the Commerical Palazzo style of architecture. These include: 1. A stong base at street level which may incorporate a mezzanine with elements portrayed in large scale, employing materials, colours and textures that may differ from the levels above. 2. The shaft is reflected by the typical office floors expressed externally by repetitive windows and the façade devoid of decoration or detail. 3. The 'capital' of the building would be represented by the expression of the top most level or levels with a projecting cornice which might also include an attic storey above. 4. The building should convey its masonry construction and should conceal any references to the structural frame. 5. The decorations and details should be derived from classical references such as from the Renaissance and Mannerist era such as the use of arches and rusticated surfaces. Important internal spaces such as the original cruciform foyer, original Lecture Hall, original Receptition Room (Edgewoth David room) on the ground floor possess fine detailing and spatial qualitites that are intact in their fitout and finishes. The two major intact street front facades at Gloucester and Essex Sts contribute greatly to the streetscape character and add to The Rocks area's significant buildings. The building is sympathetic in its scale and material to its surroundings which are both old and new. It also takes advantage of the corner site with its two decorated facades, which can be viewed from the nearby streets. The pantile clad hipped roof also can be seen from prominent views such as form the Sydney Harbour Bridge.