Sydney Forbes Street Wall- National Art School


Contact point

Picture of Kate Napier
Kate Napier Director Heritage Environment & Planning 02 9769 9847

NSW Public Works meticulously restored the Forbes St Wall at the National Art School, preserving its historical significance while ensuring its structural integrity.


The Forbes Street façade of the National Art School is of exceptional heritage significance as a crucial component of the Darlinghurst Courthouse and (former) gaol complex. The façade stood as an imposing representation of the power of the colonial justice system.

The form of the wall has changed over time including insertion of window penetrations and major alterations to the main entry doors, including the remodelling of the architectural form.

Stimulus funding for the site was announced in December 2020 and an agreement was made between the Minister’s Stonework Program and Create NSW to co-fund a package of important fabric conservation works, prioritising the buildings with the highest levels of significance and deterioration.

Forbes St Wall - Coat of Arms

Key project facts

  • Built in the 1820s, the former gaol was adapted 100 years later into East Sydney Technical College, now the National Art School.
  • At over 200 years old the gaol is the oldest surviving gaol complex in Sydney.
  • The complex curvature of the stones, the narrow constraints of the scaffold, and the Coat of Arms made this an exceptionally challenging project.
  • The Program provided strategic planning and design advice, scoped documentation, planning approvals, quality assurance through construction and co-funded delivery of the works.
  • Project completed under the Minister's Stonework Program.

Our Role

Following a safety audit in 2018, the stone units of the Forbes Street wall were identified as being in poor condition, suffering salt attack, wind erosion and general deterioration. Rot was found in the timber windows and the metal security grills were corroded causing cracking to the surrounding stones.

The Program provided strategic planning and design advice, scoped documentation, planning approvals, quality assurance through construction and co-funded delivery of the works.

The staged conservation works included replacement of unsound stone, façade cleaning, repointing, the addition of protective lead weathering, birdproofing, the repair and painting of timber elements, corrosion treatment and painting of metal elements.

A key feature of the conservation works was the challenging indent replacement of some of the missing and unsound details on the Coat of Arms, including the unicorn’s head, spear tips, date stones and the lion’s rose. The stones were carved by hand, by the Heritage Stoneworks masonry team and offered a great skills training opportunity for apprentices and junior masons.

Significant challenges that were overcome for the successful completion of this project included managing the effects of the Covid pandemic and the 2,000 mm of rain during the construction phase.

Forbes St Wall - photo collage of Coat of Arms works
Forbes Street Wall, National Art School - Coat of Arms works


A negotiated joint funding arrangement facilitated the effective use of government resources and ensured a holistic and high-quality conservation outcome.

The façade conservation works ensures structural safety, restores aesthetic and significance qualities to the streetscape and the item, and bolsters civic pride in the dynamic and vibrant Darlinghurst heritage precinct.

This project was a unique and valuable opportunity to enhance and promote the highly developed heritage trade skills across the delivery team.