The Round House recognised as part of Australia's heritage

4 May 2012

A small octagonal timber building originally used by veterinary science lecturers when demonstrating to students on cows and horses has won a major heritage award from the National Trust of Australia today.

The building was designed in 1920 by the University architect and first dean of the faculty of architecture, Professor Leslie Wilkinson, who named it the Round House despite its octagonal design.

The historically meticulous restoration by the heritage architects Clive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners saw the building awarded the 2012 National Trust of Australia Heritage award today for the best small project in the corporate and government category.

The architects' work included restoring the wooden shingles on the roof, and repairing the damaged skylight and building's timber structure. A steel frame that had been installed in 1954 was also removed.

A builder was found who could source and split Forest Oak shingles to match the originals. Historical photos, including one taken by Max Dupain, were found to assist in recreating building details, such as the lantern leadlight, as accurately as possible.

"We were gratified to receive the award and very pleased that the University has done so much good work over the years looking after its buildings," said heritage architect Ian Stapleton.

Wilkinson designed the building in 1920, soon after arriving in Sydney from England. The structure was designed to be "an 'observation box' for the vets to stand in the middle and work on animals such as cows," Stapleton says. "Students would stand on platforms around the building and look down into the well to watch."

Trevor Howells, a senior architecture lecturer at the University and author of the book University of Sydney Architecture, nominates the Round House as his favourite building at the University - ahead of other better known and highly acclaimed Wilkinson buildings at the University such as the Physics Building.

Howells believes the Round House as most likely modelled on a medieval Abbot's Kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey, which Wilkinson had visited and sketched.

"I am really delighted," commented Howells on the win. "It is Wilkinson's only timber building on campus, and it is an eccentric building in a way; it is both small and it sits in the round."

"Why I am particularly pleased is that over a long period it fell into not only disuse but into disrepair: to see it win a heritage award is fantastic for the University and the long term survival of the building."

The newly restored Round House will now once again be used by the Faculty of Veterinary Science for teaching and small group demonstrations. It will also be used for faculty celebrations and graduation and cocktail parties.