National Art School
The National Art School occupies the site of the former Darlinghurst Gaol
About the building
This year marks the 101st anniversary of the unique transformation of Sydney’s most notorious gaol to Australia’s longest running and most prominent art school, the National Art School (NAS).
Before colonisation, the site chosen for Darlinghurst Gaol was an important gathering place of the Gadigal people and a major thoroughfare for Gadigal and other Aboriginal people of these lands. Construction of the gaol walls began in 1822 using convict labour. The blocks making up the 6.5-metre-high walls on the southern and eastern sides still have the convicts’ marks, or ‘dargs’, on them. The gaol buildings – designed in sections by Mortimer Lewis and George Barney – had a radial design with an observational rotunda at the centre and seven separate two-storey cell blocks radiating from it. Darlinghurst Gaol closed in 1914.With the outbreak of World War I, the site was used as an internment camp for enemy aliens (Irish, Russians and Germans) and to house the military. Then in 1922, most of the cells were removed and the National Art School moved onto the site as part of East Sydney Technical College.
Today, NAS provides tertiary-level courses offering specialised study in studio arts across various disciplines. Visitors can walk around the campus, tour the buildings and view the NAS Archive and Collection, which consists of paintings and drawings collected from students since 1922.
This year’s Sydney Open also coincides with the recent completion of significant archaeological investigations and conservation work on the majority of the buildings and pathways, and the reconstruction of the external walls and stonework on the Forbes Street entrance.Built
Mortimer Lewis, George Barney, James BarnetAlterations
Alexander Dawson, 1862; Walter Liberty Vernon, 1890–-1911; Barry McGregor Architects, 2015Awards
State Significant Organisation, 2019
Listing on the NSW State Heritage Register, 2021
National Trust Heritage Award – Highly Commended, 2023
Find out more about this building here