Building Sydney Town Hall

Building Sydney Town Hall

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Visit the special site dedicated to Town Hall, its colourful history, its civic treasures and the renowned grand organ.

Sydney Town Hall

A grand survivor

Sydney Town Hall is a major landmark in the heart of the city, with its steps possibly Sydney's best-used rendezvous point. The highly regarded building has long hosted major civic, community and cultural celebrations. Sydney Town Hall is also thought to be the only non-religious city building to retain its original function and interiors since it was built more than 130 years ago.

One of the grandest surviving buildings in Australia, the 19th-century Sydney Town Hall contains the Council Chamber, reception rooms, the Centennial Hall and offices for the Lord Mayor and elected councillors. Sydney Town Hall is a great example of the Victorian/Beaux-Arts (Second Empire) design concepts.

The building's history is a turbulent one. After decades of unsuccessful negotiations, the city fathers finally secured a land grant from the Crown in the commercial centre of the city - as far away from colonial Government House in Macquarie Street as possible. The site was the old cemetery next to St Andrew's Cathedral, which required careful exhumation of bodies that were moved to other cemeteries.

A competition for the Town Hall's design was held and won by JH Willson, an unknown architect from Tasmania. After Willson's sudden death, a parade of architects appear to have suffered through their involvement with the project.

When complete the building had a large porte-cochere – a covered area for horse-drawn carriages, which is over where the famous steps now stand. The building also had its own ring road inside a stone and iron palisade. Unfortunately, this area was destabilised in 1934 during tunnelling for the underground railway and the formal entry had to be demolished.

Albert Bond designed the chamber now known as the vestibule, which is now open to the public and served as the meeting hall until the larger Centennial Hall was built. The vestibule has elaborately decorated surfaces in plasterwork with stained-glass lanterns and cast metal plaques commemorating royal visits to the city.

The Great Hall by Thomas Sapsford (officially named the Centennial Hall but referred to in its day as the Place of Democracy) was an engineering triumph, involving a highly structured roof system to meet the span. The ceilings are lined with an early use of the Wunderlich metal panel system, chosen to overcome the fear of plaster panels falling on patrons from vibration caused by the immense grand organ, which still functions.

The venue is still a popular function venue.

Main image: Sydney Town Hall, date unknown (State Archives NSW, 4481_a026_00410)


Last updated: Friday, 22 February 2019