By ALLISON HORE
The final stage of the restoration of Sydney’s iconic Town Hall is set to begin soon, with the southern and western facades of the building to disappear behind screens and scaffolding, to be polished, repaired and replaced.
The project will take two to three years to complete and will utilise blocks of sandstone locally sourced from construction sites around Sydney, such as the Mirvac development at 200 George Street.
Construction on the Sydney landmark commenced in 1869 based on a design by architect J H Wilson. The first stage of the building was completed in 1880, with the iconic clock tower being erected in 1873. The primary use of the building, which is home to the city’s council chambers and has large meeting and exhibition spaces, has changed little over its 140-year history.
“Sydney Town Hall is a landmark that has not only served our city as a civic centre, but also a meeting place and stage for many public events,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said in a press release.
“It is the largest and most ornate late 19th century civic building in Australia. This project will preserve the exceptional heritage features of this building so that it will be enjoyed for future generations to come.”
Restoration of Town Hall began in 2012 with the clock tower and the eastern and northern facades being the first parts of the building to receive a face lift. This $40 million phase of the project also saw the building’s historic Grand Organ cleaned and tuned and the introduction of new sustainability elements.
City Historian Dr Lisa Murray said that the restoration work was of critical importance to ensure the city’s history is protected and preserved.
“The building’s exterior and interiors exhibit the highest level of craftsmanship and quality materials, showcasing the artistic talents of Sydney’s past architects, builders, artisans and decorators,” Dr Murray said. “This is a splendid and exuberant civic building that we are fortunate to have retained in the city.”
Stained glass restoration
Work is also set to begin on the painstaking restoration of the building’s ornate stained glass windows, which will take around 5 years to complete. The 21 windows in Centennial Hall, made in 1889, were designed by French artist Lucien Henry and feature images of Captain Cook and the HMB Endeavour, a female figure called “Oceania”, and Australian wildflowers including waratahs.
According to City of Sydney curator, Margaret Betteridge, Town Hall’s stained glass windows include the first known use of Australian flora and fauna in their design and are one of the “little known gems that are unique to any other building in Australia” that can be found inside the iconic building. Dr. Murray agrees.
“There are so many layers of people, decoration, occasion and celebration connected with this site that together tell the unique history of the City of Sydney,” she said.
Lord Mayor Moore says that the project will also create much-needed work and training potential for people within the field of heritage and restoration.
“This project will also create positions for apprentices, creating jobs and skilling up the next generation of stonemasons who will continue to protect our important buildings,” Ms. Moore said.
As COVID-19 restrictions ease and Town Hall re-opens to the public, the construction work “will not restrict access” to the building and its surrounds, Ms. Moore said.