Sydney: Former Land Titles Office, Prince Albert Rd

June 26, 2012


Graphite pencils, both double-spreads, 5×8″ 150g cartridge paper, Daler-Rowney sketchbook.


When it’s not raining, sunshine in Winter affords strong shadows. Deciduous trees have lost their leaves and that helps with clear sightlines in sketching buildings. Yesterday was sunny and the NSW Registrar-General’s Building in Prince Albert Road was half in-sun (the western facade facing St James Church) and half in-shadow (the southern facade facing St Mary’s Cathedral). I went back today – raining, but not enough to deter me – and the lack of crowds permitted a view from Hyde Park (including the Archibald Fountain). In my mid-sized sketchbook, the mark-making is rough. With a larger A4 page, I would have ‘drawn’ it a lot slower.

Here’s a photo I took in December 2010:

The next step is to get a handle on the geometry and its ‘boxiness’ and the National Library of Australia, Canberra online photo (#23381811) is very useful. The NLA  photo was taken (?late 1920s) before any trees in Hyde Park North had had a chance to grow and was probably taken from the top of the building on the corner of Liverpool and Elizabeth Streets (where The Hyde building is currently) or even the top of the ANZAC War Memorial. It would have been taken around lunchtime; the same time as my sketch yesterday.

On the second visit, I became more aware not just of the geometry associated with the jutting staircases (the southern one looks very medieval and jolly), as well as the pseudo-Medieval detailing: the sandstone around the windows and the bizarre-looking fortified towers.

Definitely worth a few return trips to focus on the details! 


1 Prince Albert Road is in fact the NSW Department of Lands, Land & Property Information Division Office and was formerly occupied by the Registrar General’s Department and is otherwise known as the former Land Titles Office of the Department of Lands. Not to be confused with the ‘other’ former Registrar General’s Department building, now the Supreme Court, behind St James’ Church opposite David Jones. Why such an imposing building for managing Land Titles? Because of the growth associated with the important business of knowing who occupied which land in Sydney and NSW.

There was tremendous pressure to secure the documents properly. Formerly a convict garden (it’s adjacent to Hyde Park Barracks) and the office of the Colonial Architect and a related timber yard; around  this time, Hyde Park Barracks was slated to be demolished and replaced by law courts.

The ‘medieval’ characteristics stem from its Federation Tudor Gothic style. It was built in c1912-1913, under Walter Liberty Vernon, NSW Government Architect, with The Records Wing added in c1962. Obviously any sketch or drawing needs to convey the sense of load-bearing masonry external walls in Sydney yellow block sandstone, from Pyrmont Quarries.  To quote from Noel Bell Ridley Smith & Partners Architects conservation management plan:

Each facade…is symmetrical around its centre axis and is designed in a series of bays. Each bay is defined by an octagonal corner pier and turret and generally contains three smaller divisions of equally-spaced windowwidths.

The report mentions the southern facade divided into five sections, dominated by three steep gables, the blind arcading at two levels, with plate ornamentation finishing in a ventilation spot and an Arts and Crafts-style finial apex. My sketch draws attention to the stone walls flanking the semi-circular entry steps (in the Arts and Crafts manner) ending in trachyte piers surmounted by modern metal light fittings.

My sketch notes the unsympathetic mansard roof additions in ribbed copper compromising the simple pitched slate roof: purple Bangor slate cladding and copper trims.

Sydney urban sketchers will be familiar with other Walter Liberty Vernon buildings: the Mitchell Wing of the State Library of NSW, the Art Gallery of NSW, McLaurin Hall at Sydney University, Central Railway Station, Darlinghurst Fire Station, Pyrmont Fire Station, Annandale Post Office, Randwick Fire Station, Crows Nest Fire Station, Newtown Post Office, Redfern Court House, Burwood Post Office (and Newcastle Court House).


Noel Bell, Ridley Smith & Partners Architects – Conservation Management Plan (including a “clean” photo c.1912 of the western facade):


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