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Sydney TAFE buildings historical photo

TAFE NSW Heritage Collection: Architecture & Design

Image Gallery

Electrolier design by L Henry

Stained glass window by student

Waratah in plaster ventilator

Bottle design by L Henry


Source: Technical gazette of New South Wales, February 1912 - Location: Serial 378.94405/TECH -TAFE History Collection

Sandstone Carvings videos

Sandstone carvings video

Produced by Ultimo Library, this short video highlights some of the beautiful details of Australian flora and fauna carvings adorning the Mary Ann Street buildings. Note this is a silent presentation.

TAFE NSW SI Libraries Youtube Channel - viewed 20 August 2014

Artisans of Australia : Stone craft

Video footage featuring craftsmen restoring the iconic stonemasonry of the original buildings of Sydney Technical College.

Print Courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia - viewed 20 August 2014

Did you know ...

Did you know the original motto of Sydney Technical College was "Manu et mente" when translated from Latin is by hand and mind? It is also the current motto for the University of New South Wales. This university originated from Sydney Technical College in 1948 when it was called the New South Wales University of Technology.



At TAFE NSW, we have been delivering education and training from our first permanent site at Ultimo since 1891.  At  TAFE NSW Ultimo, the buildings have high historical significance and if you take the time to look at them, you will see a hotchpotch of rich architectural styles charting the evolution of the College as it expanded. These buildings date from the late 19th century through to post-Federation and the inter-war period of the 20th century.

The oldest buildings, along Mary Ann Street and fronting Harris Street, Ultimo, were erected between 1891 and 1892 and designed by the Government Architect W.E. Kemp. They are Building A (former Sydney Technical College - main college building), The Muse (former Technological Museum), Turner Hall and Building I (former Sydney Boys High School). To this day, these buildings remain one of the finest groups of Romanesque Revival style in Sydney, although Turner Hall (before extension) and Building I are often described in the Queen Anne style.

Another significant building is Building H, the former Sheep and Wool building and Architecture and Building Trades building. This building, erected in several stages, illustrates the remarkable growth undergone by Sydney Technical College during the 20th century. Building P (Engineering and Allied Trades School) is another historic building designed by a government architect – Harry Rembert and is regarded as one of his outstanding works.

This page briefly explores the architecture and design of these historic buildings still in use today as well as interesting historical facts about Ultimo College.

Ultimo College Buildings


Once considered the historical flagship of technical education in New South Wales, this grand building was originally used for classrooms by various teaching departments, such as Agriculture, Art, Mechanical Drawing, Pharmacy and even Sydney Technical Day (High) School. As the College grew, Building A became the main administration area for TAFE NSW statewide until 1954.

Building A was designed by W.E. Kemp, the Government Architect, in the Romanesque Revival style and opened in 1892. The semi-circular arches gives the appearance of columns and the use of patterned multi-coloured brickwork is present. Notice the goannas adorning the main entrance arch. This decorative style of using Australian flora and fauna is a significant break from the classically derived sandstone traditions of the time. 

This building is three storeys high plus a basement and the top floor has a vaulted ceiling. Inside the main entrance, there is an impressive ornate staircase, elaborate wood carvings decorating the walls and handmade stained glass windows showing representations of Science and Literature.


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Building B, also known as Turner Hall, was designed by W.E. Kemp, Government Architect, in the Queen Anne style and opened in 1892. One of the original buildings along Mary Ann Street, Building B was a mirror image of Building I. It was planned to accommodate Sydney Girls High School, but Sydney Technical College occupied the site.

Building B is a highly decorative two storey building of multi-coloured brickwork, panels of terracotta relief and unique sandstone carvings showing Australian flora and fauna.

In 1911, an extra storey was added and it was extended forward to create the Turner Hall auditorium upstairs. It was named in honour of the Superintendent of Technical Education, Mr J.W. Turner (pictured). He was instrumental in persuading the government to fund building facilities for the sudden increase of classes and he  is also credited with forming Sydney Technical High School.

The Turner Hall building has seen many faces - it was partitioned and then converted for classroom use for the Department of Electrical Engineering from 1917 to 1934 and the School of Hairdressing from 1958 to 1984. The College's first cafeteria opened on the ground floor in 1927. The Auditorium on the first floor was used as lecture rooms, exhibition space and examination hall by Sydney Technical High School and other high schools in the metropolitan areas.

The interior of Building B contains marble wall panelling in the entrance halls and four stained glass windows depicting various industries. Inside the Turner Hall auditorium on the first floor, there is an extensive highly decorated celling made from genuine pressed zinc metal.  The ceiling was manufactured by Wunderlich and is arguably one of the largest of its kind in Australia.

The Turner Hall auditorium was fully restored to its former glory in 1990 and today it used for graduation ceremonies and other large events. As a unique and historic venue, Turner Hall is available for hire.

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Formerly known as the Technological Museum, Building C, also known as ‘The Muse’, was designed by W.E. Kemp, Government Architect, in the Romanesque Revival style and opened in 1893. The Museum held items from the surviving collection of the Garden Palace fire, see below.

The Muse is a three storey building facing Harris Street and was built from local ‘yellow block’ sandstone. The building’s façade features arched windows, fine examples of patterned multi-coloured brickwork, panels of terracotta relief and unique sandstone carvings depicting Australian flora and fauna.

In 1945, it was renamed the Museum of Technology and Applied Science for a short time. Due to a lack of space, the expanding collection moved to the old Ultimo Power Station on Harris Street, now known as the Powerhouse Museum (a branch of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences).

The ground floor of The Muse is now used as an exhibition and function venue available for hire.

Below is a selection of items from the TAFE NSW Heritage Collection and other interesting resources.

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The Technological Museum began its life at the Garden Palace (pictured) which was located in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney. The Garden Palace was designed by James Barnet (1827-1904), Colonial Architect, and was built in 1879. It  housed the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879.

After the Sydney International Exhibition closed in 1880, the Garden Palace was meant to be the new Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum, along with other uses, such as government offices, lecture rooms. However, in 1882 disaster struck three months before opening day when the beautiful building and valuable contents were destroyed by a spectacular fire. Below is a digitised version of the official fire document listing lost assets of £10,915 and signed by Joseph Maiden, first curator of the Technological Museum.

Commercial High School Building I

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Building I was designed by W.E. Kemp, the Architect for Government Schools, and often described in the Queen Anne style. It was erected in 1891 as a mirror image to Building B. As part of the grand plan for a unified secondary and tertiary education, Sydney Boys High School occupied Building I (1892 to 1928) as an integral part of Sydney Technical College.

Building I is a two storey building facing Mary Ann Street. It has finely detailed multi-coloured brickwork and sandstone carvings of Australian flora and fauna. To the left of Building I, there is a small classically designed pavilion which is connected to Building A.

Sheep & Wool Building H c1910

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Building H, from Mary Ann Street to Thomas Street (built in stages: 1891, 1908, 1910, 1912, 1927 and completed in 1980)

Formerly the Architecture and Building Trades building and the Sheep and Wool Building, Building H is a long three storey building erected in several stages reflecting the dramatic growth of Sydney Technical College in the early 20th century. It was designed by W.E. Kemp, Government Architect, in the Federation Warehouse style.

The original central building, with the archway, was the first building used by architects and building supervisors before the College opened in 1891. In 1908, a third level was added to provide a university-style lecture hall for the Department of Architecture.

In 1910, a new building was erected as a separate building ending at Mary Ann Street. This was the new Sheep and Wool building. The top two floors were used for wool classing and on the ground floor the science laboratories were used by Sydney Boys High School students. 

The newly acquired land from the Ultimo House estate allowed an extension to the original building in 1912 in order to improve accommodation for the Department of Architecture.

By 1927, the accommodation crisis eased at the College when a further extension was made towards the Thomas Street corner.

In 1980, the last extension was made when the former Sheep and Wool building was joined to the archway belonging to the old Architecture and Building Trades building.

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Building P, the Engineering and Allied Trades School (opened in 1940) was designed by E.H. Rembert, a highly respected NSW Government Architect and former student of Sydney Technical College.

Also known as the Hoskins Building, it is very different from the ornate buildings in Mary Ann Street. Inspiration for its simplicity of design came from the Dutch architect Dudok, a follower of the ‘functional school’ of architecture.

Building P is located on the corner of Thomas and Wattle Streets, Ultimo. It is a concrete framed, face brick building with the main entrance on Thomas Street. It has three levels with three staircase towers fronting Wattle Street and a four storey square clock tower at the Thomas Street entrance. The original plans show that the height of the building may be increased by an extra two storeys when the need for additional accommodation is required.

During World War II, from 1940 to1944, this building operated 24 hours a day as a teaching facility, factory and camp by the Royal Australian Air Force. See also War & Peace.

Below is a selection of objects from the TAFE NSW Heritage Collection and external links. More information may be found by clicking the link or image.

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The Marcus Clark Building was originally an influential retail establishment situated in the most prominent position on Broadway in Railway Square, the southern edge of Sydney's CBD.

This building was completed in 1928 and was designed by the prestigious architectural firm Spain and Cosh (former Sydney Technical College students) in a Federation Free Classical style. This large building has eight storeys and an elaborate square tower crowned with a squat octagonal spire illuminated with a glass sphere. Sydney Technical College acquired the Marcus Clark Building in 1966.

Today, Building W is used for classrooms and administrative use, as well as the location for the TAFE NSW Customer Service Centre at 827-839 George Street, adjacent to Railway Square, Sydney. The eighth floor of the former Marcus Clark retail emporium is available for hire as a function venue.

Below is a selection of objects from the TAFE NSW Heritage Collection and external links.

Ultimo House         

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As you walk through Ultimo College campus, you are entering the former estate of John Harris, Surgeon in the New South Wales Corps (army). In the early 19th century, Harris was given large acres of land extending all the way to Pyrmont Point as a thank you grant by Governor Philip Gidley King. Below are select historical facts about Ultimo and Ultimo College.

“I was struck with the oddity of the name (Ultimo)” * – Origins of the Name Ultimo

* Source: Mrs Macquarie’s journal (1809), The Lachlan & Elizabeth Macquarie Archive, viewed 28 November 2014  

In 1803, the New South Wales Corps made several attempts to court-martial Harris on trumped-up charges to dishonour him. When Harris was brought before the court for "...scandalous, infamous behaviour unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman"the case was dismissed because the charge against him was badly written – the charge was recorded as 19th ultimo (last month) instead of 19th instant (current month). In commemoration of this legal error, Harris named his estate ‘Ultimo’.

Ultimo House – the Perfect Country Estate

It was near the present Building J that Harris built the historic Ultimo House c1805, regarded as one of the finest houses in Sydney. Built by convicts, Ultimo House was described as a typical early colonial mansion with two storeys and wide verandahs supported by columns. Ideally located, Ultimo House was built on a sandstone ridge with views to Blackwattle Creek and Cockle Bay. Around Ultimo House, the area was surrounded by farming land, English style gardens and even deer imported by Harris.

Ultimo House and the 'Rum Rebellion'

On the 26 January 1808, a group of officers from the New South Wales Corps stopped at Ultimo House to have a meal and the plot was hatched to stage the ‘Rum Rebellion’ in order to arrest Governor Bligh. The officers marched to Government House, arrested Bligh and deposed him, making this event the first and only military coup in Australian history.

Sydney Technical College and Ultimo House

John William Turner, Superintendent of Technical Education from 1906 to 1912, was successful in purchasing UItimo House and the land surrounding it for Sydney Technical College in 1910 because space for classrooms was urgently needed.

At the time, Ultimo House was in poor condition and needed alterations and repairs to allow the Department of Agriculture, Department of Veterinary Science and Department of Women’s Handicrafts to utilise the rooms for classrooms. The outhouses, such as the coach house and stable buildings, were also used as workshops for bricklaying, masonry and plastering.

Sydney Technical High School and Ultimo House

Another notable achievement of John William Turner was the establishment of Sydney Technical High School. This school occupied the site at Sydney Technical College from 1911 to 1925. Turner allowed the Technical High School students to use the facilities of the College, such as the library, workshops, classrooms and also the rooms of Ultimo House due to the lack of space. Even the 'locked' cellars of Ultimo House were used by the students as lunch rooms, though probably without permission.

The Library holds an important artefact (a convict made brick) belonging to Ultimo House (it was demolished in 1933) and other related published and unpublished material. Below is a selection of items from the TAFE NSW Heritage Collection and external links.

Australian Flora & Fauna Designs


Spectacular sandstone carvings of Australian flora and fauna decorate the Mary Ann Street frontage of TAFE NSW Ultimo. These carving designs were created and carved by McIntosh and Fillans, former students and teachers of Sydney Technical College in the late 19th century.The beautiful and unique carvings feature waratahs, banksias, kangaroos, wombats, lyrebirds, echidnas and others. This was a very unusual idea at the time as many public buildings still paid tribute to European heritage and traditions like gargoyles. There is no doubt the designs were influenced by an Australian nationalism promoted by Lucien Henry, Head Instructor of the Art Department (1884-1891)Described as a visionary, Henry inspired a whole generation of art teachers, decorative artists and sculptors to use Australian flora and fauna in architecture and design.

      Lucien Felix Henry (1850-1896)    

Below is a selection of items from the TAFE NSW Heritage Collection and external links.