Sydney Architecture Images- Sydney University

Holme Building


Walter Liberty Vernon (NSWGA) and John Barr 1908-13. Edwin Evan Smith (NSWGA) 1934, Cobden Parkes (NSWGA) 1939-48.


Science Road




Federation Free Style Federation Arts and Crafts


red brick with stone trim.


Student Union
The first permanent purpose-built building for the men's student union, the design and facilities of which reflected the men's club ethos of the Oxbridge Union model on which the Union was based. The growth of the Union building and changes to the services provided reflect both the growth of the student population and changing expectations of the level and type of student facilities. One of the unusual and carefully detailed Federation Arts and Crafts style Science faculties to be constructed along Science Road, designed by the Government Architects branch under Walter Liberty Vernon.

The Sydney University Union was established in 1874 on the model of the Oxbridge Union Societies and in 1884 a men's common room was provided by the Senate to the south of the Macleay Museum. Following the decision to fund a permanent building from the Challis bequest, a site was chosen in May 1907 adjoining the Parramatta Road. In 1910 the Old Engineering School was demolished for the construction of the Union which was built in 1910- 1912 to designs by the Government Architect. A tea room was added in 1913 but there was no dining hall at this stage. A frieze was painted in the Reading Room in 1913 by Norman Carter (in collaboration with B J Waterhouse) but was not completed. The Union Hall was completed by B J Waterhouse & H V Vernon in 1916. Kitchens were added behind the tea room by Leslie Wilkinson & B J Waterhouse in 1921. [In 1923-1924 the Refectory was built on the west side and extended in 1940-1941 See Refectory A 09] Extensions to the west end of the building constructed in 1934 in the original style by the Government Architect included a ladies' retiring room, small committee room and non-members' entrance. Later works included alterations to the south porch entrance and pathway in 1950; extensions in 1953-1954 to the exchange and the reconstruction of the kitchens in 1957. In 1960-1961 a clubroom was built along the north side of the Pleasance and the Union Hall was replaced by the new Union Theatre, opened on 16 September 1961. A sculpture panel was added in 1962 by Lyndon Dadswell titled 'University life'. The theatre was renamed the Footbridge Theatre in 1981. Extensive remodelling of the Union in 1966-1967 by John W Roberts & Associates occasioned the loss of much of the original interior. On 1 January 1972 the men's and women's unions amalgamated as the University of Sydney Union. The Old Union was renamed the Holme Building in 1975.

The first stage of the building is constructed of face brickwork with carved sandstone detailing. The Federation Arts and Crafts style building featured sloping buttresses, gables with a sandstone coping and Gothic Revival style detailing to the main archway and the crenellated parapet. Although the forms are Gothic in inspiration the carved decorative detail is Arts and Crafts/Art Nouveau style. The carved mullions to the windows and weatherings to the buttresses were also sandstone. There is a carved panel to the main entrance bearing the words The Union and the date 1911. The elaborate lantern to the roof is clad with copper/muntz metal. The windows are metal. The porches at ground floor level had timber brackets and eaves (modified or removed?). The later additions by Wilkinson were Mediterranean in inspiration with the characteristic stucco finish, whilst other additions continued the brick and stone vocabulary established by Vernon. Both internally and externally the building has undergone considerable modification. Arts works were commissioned for the original building. Following World War II murals were painted in the refectory over a 20 year period. The extent of survival of original fabric or the early modifications has not been determined.