Ground-breaking in its day and an icon of Australian campus architecture, the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library is celebrating 60 years with a very special reactivation.
November 13th, 2023
The modern Fisher Library has just celebrated 60 years with the unveiling of its newly reopened rooftop. Designed by NSW Government Architects Office, with architect Ted Farmer and designers Ken Woolley and Tom O’Mahoney, the first stage of construction was completed in 1962. The reactivation has been completed by Hames Sharley in collaboration with architect Trinh Tran from the University’s Design Engineering Planning & Sustainability team.
The building occupies a prominent position on the University of Sydney’s main campus, almost facing off against the prestigious Quadrangle which sits across lawns to its north-west. The library in fact lies cornered by the University’s two original axes which run north-south and east-west. The latter, less used today, connects the Quadrangle all the way down to City Road through Victoria Park, while the former, Eastern Avenue, is now the campus’ primary thoroughfare.
When it first opened, Fisher Library represented quite the modernist shock to a campus architecture still very much looking back to the aesthetics of Oxbridge and sandstone gravitas (Chemistry Building notwithstanding). The new facility instead indulged a rationalist and minimal architectural language with its strong concrete horizontals and pre-oxidised extruded bronze, while the later addition of the eight-storey ‘book-stack’ building added height.
The rooftop of the Undergraduate Wing provides special views of Sydney. With the Quadrangle on one side, the other looks out to an almost unimpeded vista of the city with Victoria Park below. Recent work to renovate the space followed a campaign by student newspaper, Honi Soit.
Related: When Lacaton & Vassal came to Sydney
“I feel immensely proud to be part of a generation of library custodians that has been able to reactivate that space,” says Brett Stamford, compliance and quality manager at Fisher Library, who also notes the use of tensile mesh in the new design. The addition, wrapping around the edge of the rooftop area, allows for some of the best qualities of the space – the views and ventilation – to remain, while maintaining safety and meeting heritage council requirements.
Reaching further back into history, the library was named after Thomas Fisher. Born in Sydney in 1820 and the son of former convicts John Fisher and Jemima Bolton (who met while serving as assigned convicts in Parramatta!), Fisher became a boot-making apprentice and set up his own business – T. Fisher. Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Boot and Show Manufacturer – in Pitt Street. Living close to the University of Sydney in Darlington, he was known to walk through the University grounds left the University a grant of £32,000 (equivalent of more than $3.5 million today). Fittingly, the bequest came with instructions mentioning books and building.
The occasion of the 60th anniversary was marked by the opening of the rooftop for groups of visitors, some of whom were fortunate enough to see and subsequently partake of a detailed cake model of the whole building. Matt Devine, lecturer in education and heritage planner at the City of Sydney, was part of a panel with Dr Yulia Ulyannikova and Dr Sebastian Boell that reflected on the history, significance and life of the library.
“It’s a special place, a crossover point of different histories that stretch across some of Sydney’s many faces,” says Devine. “Whether appreciated from a strictly modernist architectural perspective or nostalgically as part of campus memories for generations of previous students, it’s a building that needs to be recognised – and the renewed rooftop creates an impetus for exactly that.”
The mid-century aesthetics and design philosophy brought open floorplans and decidedly modern programmatic features such as lounges and a music listening area (pictured above in the 1970s and 1980s). The original roof terrace was part of its popular appeal, and its reopening is something to be cherished by students and the wider Sydney architecture community alike.
University of Sydney
Courtesy University of Sydney
Keep up to date with the latest and greatest from our industry BFF's!
Didier studio celebrates the harmony of democratic design and understated utility with the Gunzel seating and table collection.
Studio Prineas’ Fisherman’s House and its theatrical kitchen sets a backdrop for life, with utterly unique design details awarding it the top prize.
For Living Edge, B-Corp certification was the next appropriate step in a long journey focused on building a truly sustainable and socially responsible business. In 2023 they achieved certification at their first pass, giving customers a new level of environmental assurance and the company an important milestone to celebrate across two decades of staff-led, sector-leading sustainability practices.
Channelling the enchanting ambience of the Caffè Greco in Rome, Budapest’s historic Gerbeaud, and Grossi Florentino in Melbourne, Ross Didier’s new collection evokes the designer’s affinity for café experience, while delivering refined seating for contemporary hospitality interiors.
Presenting Your Moment INDESIGN, an exciting creative campaign brought to you by Indesign Media and eight of Australia’s best known architects and designers. Experience the campaign and hear from these leaders of industry about the design philosophies they live and work by, and how INDESIGN fuels their daily practice.
The University of New England (UNE) recently hosted a community reveal of Architectus’ initial vision for the proposed Tamworth campus. We walk you through the update.
Relive the best moments and catch up on the awards and winners celebrated at the 2023 INDE.Awards’ night of nights.
What can Australian build-to-rent (BTR) developers learn from the experienced UK market and how can these lessons be applied locally? Frank Filskow shares valuable insights from Make’s work and research in the UK and Australia.
The internet never sleeps! Here's the stuff you might have missed
The full list of winners from the Design Institute of Australia Awards 2023 have been announced, including a standout graduate of the year.
GroupGSA has been named national winner, Polytec’s highest design honour, for an enthralling commercial fit-out which spotlights Australian talent and craftsmanship.
Kate Stokes of Coco Flip recently launched the Bellini collection, a series of seats that responds to a gap in the market for comfortable bench seating. It feels both laid back and luxe.