Imagine a City: 200 years of public architecture in NSW

Exhibition Date

Saturday 20 February 2016 to Sunday 8 May 2016



Exhibition Guide

Opening Hours

  1. Today
    1. 9am to 8pm
  2. Tomorrow
    1. 9am to 8pm
  3. Thursday
    1. 9am to 8pm
  4. Friday
    1. 9am to 5pm
  5. Saturday
    1. 10am to 5pm
  6. Sunday
    1. 10am to 5pm
  7. Monday
    1. 9am to 8pm


Upcoming Events

On 1 March 1816 Francis Greenway was appointed acting Civil Architect on a wage of three shillings a day.

The British government had earlier rejected the request of NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie to appoint a government architect, and insisted that Greenway’s job be temporary. Yet Greenway became the first of 23 NSW government architects whose collective tenure spans two centuries. While their titles and job descriptions have varied, their role has remained essentially the one pioneered by Francis Greenway. Lachlan Macquarie’s ambition was to make a handsome town of Sydney, a goal at odds with London’s insistence that the new colony be managed as a deterrent address offering only the most basic subsistence.

For 200 years, the Government Architect’s office has followed Greenway’s ambition to design for the future and set the architectural standard for Sydney and NSW.

Imagine A City: 200 years of public architecture in NSW

An audio described version of the video is available.  

Pennant Hills High School, 1967, photo by Max Dupain & Associates
Pennant Hills High School, 1967
Max Dupain & Associates
Digital ID: 
None available
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A black and white photograph of architects working at drafting tables in 1963
About this item: 

Architects' drafting office during construction of the Sydney Opera House, 1963

11 June 1963

The Drafting Office, 1963
McPhedran, Don
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Plan section and elevation of Macquarie Lighthouse South Head, 1885
About this item: 

Black ink on paper.

Macquarie Lighthouse South Head, 1885
Barnet, James Johnstone, 1827-1904
Digital ID: 
Album ID : 846244
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Watercolour and ink sketch of a grand domed building with St Mary's Cathedral appearing in the background and a horse rider galloping across the foreground.
About this item: 

One of a collection of sketch designs for Free Public Library, 1883; Public Library Sydney, 1890

"Barnet's 1883 proposed National Library design, reminiscent of the British Museum, was to be located on the site of the Hyde Park Barracks."

-- Reference: A source of inspiration & delight : the buildings of the State Library of New South Wales since 1826 / David J. Jones. Sydney : Library Council of New South Wales, c1988.
`Braeside', Ross Street, Forest Lodge was the residence of the Barnet family.

Design for a Free Public Library, 1883
Barnet, James Johnstone, 1827-1904
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Digital ID: 
A sepia photograph of the Garden Palace taken from the north side of Sydney Harbour looking back across the harbour with tall ships in Circular Quay
About this item: 

Albumen photoprint ; 15.7 x 20.7 cm

Presented January 1987

Photographer's stamp at lower left
"160" at lower left

Garden Palace, 1879
Bayliss, Charles, 1850-1897
Digital ID: 
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Oil painting of a grand sandstone building with various people on the forecourt including a wigged solicitor. In the background, two other large buildings appear on the otherwise empty country landscape.
About this item: 

"In the late 1830s the Government Architect, Mortimer Lewis, designed the Supreme Court House (still standing on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst). Its severely classical form was much admired: Louisa Anne Meridith thought it the only `architectural' building in Sydney, while James Maclehose considered it representative of the `cottages, villas, and even mansions, partaking of a grandeur of character which could not have been contemplated in the early history of the colony [but which] are now to be seen in almost every direction...' "
Reference: George Edwards Peacock exhibition catalogue. State Library of New South Wales, 2002

Supreme Court House, Sydney, 1845
Peacock, G. E. (George Edwards), b. 1806
Digital ID: 
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Related events

Meet the curators

Portrait of Charles Pickett

Dr Charles Pickett

Charles Pickett has curated numerous exhibitions about architecture and design. His books include Designer Suburbs: Architects and affordable homes in Australia (2012 with Judith O’Callaghan), The fibro frontier: A different history of Australian architecture (1997) and Homes in the sky: Apartment living in Australia (2007 with Caroline Butler-Bowdon), winner of the 2008 AIA Bates Smart Award for architecture in the media.
Portrait of Matthew Devine

Matthew Devine

Matthew is an architect and heritage specialist at the NSW Government Architect’s Office, with a passion for architectural and social history. Matt has been the principal liaison between the exhibition curator, the Library, and the Government Architect and his office. He has played a key research role, uncovering forgotten treasures (images, objects and information) and has become an incidental expert on the history of the offices of the Civil Architect, Colonial Architect and the Government Architect.
Portrait of Margot Riley

Margot Riley

Margot is a curator and cultural historian working in the Library’s Research & Discovery Branch. She has curated numerous exhibitions and displays for the Library. Margot provides valuable insider organisational information and collection knowledge for external curators and coordinates digitisation and preservation. She continues to provide support and content for programs, events and the Library's social media channels.

More from "Imagine A City"

Curator Q&A

A quick Q&A with 'Imagine A City' curator, Charles Pickett. 

Walk With Me

Join exhibition curator Charles Pickett on a self-guided highlights tour of Sydney’s #publicmade buildings.


Explore architectural gems from around the state with the latest digital experiment from the Library's DX Lab.

Imagine A City - Exhibition Film

Architects talk about the evolution of the Government Architect's Office over its 200 year history. 

Presented in association with

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