“ 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.