Woman holding convict leg chains and talking to students.
An educator with students in the learning precinct. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums
To design the new learning precinct at the Hyde Park Barracks, we engaged with a key group of intended users – school students. 

As part of the renewal of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hyde Park Barracks in 2019–20, the former District Court rooms at the rear of the Barracks complex were also transformed, into dedicated spaces for hands-on learning. 

A hands-on experience 

With its rich tangible links to history, and wealth of powerful stories and objects, the Barracks welcomes tens of thousands of school students each year, to see, hear, touch and listen and be immersed in stories of the past. Hands-on learning is prized by students and other visitors for whom the chance to touch history feels extraordinary. While the many precious and fragile artefacts on display inside the Barracks cannot be handled, the new learning precinct was planned to be a place for a hands-on experience. 

The renewal of the District Court spaces began in earnest with the commissioning of award-winning architects Hayball to design an engaging learning precinct. Hayball Sydney’s Studio Director Fiona Young and Associate Andrew Fong led the design process, working closely with Sydney Living Museums’ Experience and Learning Team. These teams shared a combined wealth of experience in learning design, in relation to both spaces and activities, but we quickly determined that it was important to engage with the intended users – that is, young people – to gain their insights and ideas. 

We were fortunate to have the support of St Patrick’s College Strathfield, who allowed a group of students from years five to 11 to participate in a half-day workshop. The boys shared their high expectations and big ideas. The most common messages to emerge from the day were that young people want agency to explore in their own ways, and they want an experience that rates right up there with other favourite activities that entertain and inspire. Equipped with our knowledge and encouraged by their enthusiasm, we set about creating an integrated learning precinct comprising connected indoor and outdoor spaces that would be welcoming, inspiring and flexible enough to meet many needs. 

Project delivery 

Moving from the design phase towards construction, we had to face the fact that our vision exceeded our resources. So began a process of working with SLM’s Exhibitions Team to reimagine how we could deliver the project on budget without compromising the vision. In time, the redesigned courtrooms were fitted out with high-quality digital equipment, functional storage, flexible display options and some furniture, but we still had a wish list that we couldn’t yet deliver. In mid-2020, our Development & Fundraising Team approached Goldman Sachs for crucial support. 

Through the generous support of Goldman Sachs Gives, we were able to complete the learning spaces, including the installation of audiovisual equipment and air conditioning. These additions will ensure that the students can make the most of the opportunity to experience history where it happened. 

Since March this year, the first of many beneficiaries of this project – primary and secondary school students on excursion, and visitors exploring the Barracks and the remarkable installation created by renowned artist Fiona Hall – have experienced hands-on history in the learning precinct thanks to the visioning work of Hayball architects, the work of many teams at SLM, and the generosity of Goldman Sachs. We look forward to welcoming many more visitors in years to come.

Learn more about our programs.

  • Long high-ceilinged room with map on floor and props at rear.

    One of the spaces in the new learning precinct at the Hyde Park Barracks.

    Photo © Evolving Picture/Chris Bennett for Sydney Living Museums

  • Table and chairs with panorama behind.

    One of the spaces in the new learning precinct at the Hyde Park Barracks.

    Photo © Evolving Picture/Chris Bennett for Sydney Living Museums

About the Author

Portrait of woman against plain background.
Colleen Fitzgerald
Coordinator, Learning Programs
Colleen leads the Learning Team at Sydney Living Museums. With more than two decades of experience in youth engagement, museum education and adult...

This article originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums Gazette, our Members’ magazine.

Not a Member?

Join now