Heritage Buildings: Updating Wilkinson's Vision

22 September 2006

Chris Legge-Wilkinson (right) with architect Ian Stapleton.

How to reconcile the vision of celebrated architect Leslie Wilkinson with the practical demands of the 21st century is the task facing Chris Legge-Wilkinson, manager of the program to conserve the University's heritage buildings.

Leslie Wilkinson, the University's first professor of architecture, designed some of the most important buildings on campus including the School of Physics and the north west corner of the Quadrangle. He also designed the entrance at the northern end of the School of Medicine in the Anderson Stuart Building - an entry that is now being fitted with a ramp to provide access for people with disabilities.

Work on the permanent access ramp has almost been completed. It has been built out of matching sandstone and with brass and steel handrails to provide accessibility without marring the appearance of the original facade."We are trying to think like Wilkinson," says Mr Legge-Wilkinson, from the Campus Property and Services Office. "We also consulted widely with the City of Sydney Council, the NSW Heritage Office and Dr James Kerr, the author of the building's conservation plan, before committing to the new design."

Other parts of the sandstone Gothic-revival building, constructed in the early 1920s, are being repaired after suffering weather damage. A decorative lantern dome has been reconstructed, new roof slating fitted and two decorative gargoyles and bosses replaced.

The architects, Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners, designed the roof dome using old photographs and original drawings. All replacement stone was supplied by NSW's Government's sandstone reserve for state listed heritage buildings and is expected to mirror the original stone perfectly.

The work, which is due for completion in December, forms part of a greater project to ensure that all University buildings meet the government's accessibility codes. But most buildings date from before the war and have steps as their main way in and out, and it is proving to be a tricky and costly task.

"We are working in collaboration with the University's disability consultative committee on a proposal to provide all University buildings with facilities for people with disabilities," said Mr Legge-Wilkinson. "Also the conservation work, while expensive, is important so that future generations do not inherit a costly backlog."