Sydney College of the Arts

Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) was the first tertiary art school established in New South Wales when in 1970 a government report recommended the establishment in Sydney of ‘… a corporate college of advanced education … for the purpose of providing tertiary education for persons preparing for professional careers in art and design’. The Gleeson Report

In 1976 Sydney College of the Arts was established as a College of Advanced Education and enrolled its first students when it took over responsibility for design diploma courses previously conducted by the Department of Technical and Further Education. A visual arts program was offered by SCA the following year.

In 1988, the Design School and the Visual Arts School separated with the design courses moving to the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney. SCA became solely dedicated to the research and practice of contemporary visual arts.

On 1 January 1990, SCA became an academic college of the University of Sydney with status equivalent to a faculty. In 1996, after twenty years located in ‘temporary’ premises in Balmain, SCA relocated to the historic Kirkbride buildings in Rozelle. SCA continues the tradition of academic excellence associated with Australia’s most established educational institution by providing a specialist and multi-disciplinary approach to research-based visual arts education that reflects the diversity of professional art practice.

SCA moved from its original temporary campus in Balmain to the refurbished historic Kirkbride site in Rozelle in 1996. Kirkbride is a Victorian neo-classic complex of sandstone buildings originally designed for use as a hospital by colonial architect James Barnet and built in the 1880s.


“ The arrangement of the buildings, from every point of view, exceeds any other of a similar kind in these colonies, and almost in the old country”. 1885 Illustrated Sydney News

Sydney College of the Arts moved into the refurbished historic sandstone buildings of Kirkbride in April of 1996. Nineteen million dollars were spent restoring and renovating the buildings for their new life as a contemporary art college.

The Government Architect’s approach to the refurbishment of the historic site of Kirkbride has been one of minimum intervention. This sensitive attitude to conservation was rewarded with a Merit Award from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1997 and builds upon the work of James Barnet, colonial architect.

Kirkbride was Australia’s largest public works project of the nineteenth century and has major historical and architectural significance. Located in Callan Park on the shores of Iron Cove at Rozelle, Sydney, Kirkbride was originally designed and constructed for use as a state-of-the-art mental hospital.


Colonial architect James Barnet designed Kirkbride in consultation with Dr. F. Norton Manning, the then Director of Mental Health. Dr. Manning based his designs on a study of overseas methods of asylum administration and patient care and on the principles of hospital construction advocated by Florence Nightingale. The complex was named after Thomas Storey Kirkbride, an American who preached the curative powers of pleasant surroundings. Construction of the hospital began in April 1883 and continued until January 1885.

Kirkbride is a Victorian neo-classic complex built of sandstone, four-fifths of which was obtained on site, with the excavation providing an underground reservoir for water. The buildings are well-lit and airy and open onto verandahs which link the various courtyards.


Buildings were fitted with slate roofs, timber floors, copper down pipes and high arched ceilings. Hundreds of mini-Doric cast iron columns support the verandah roofs while acting as down pipes for the collection of water. A Venetian clock tower has a tidal ball-spire which rises and falls according to the water level of the underground reservoir.