Hyde Park Barracks renewal project Q&A

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hyde Park Barracks Museum (HPBM) tells a unique story of Australia’s convict history and is one of the most significant convict sites in the world.

In 2018, Sydney Living Museums announced a major renewal of HPBM that will see the site transformed with a rich, new visitor experience like no other in Australia.

This bold project employs the best in contemporary museum design, offering visitors an authentic, emotionally moving and relevant experience.

Visitors will see and hear history in a way they’ve not experienced before. A unique Story Guide will lead people on a journey through a series of rooms creating a naturalistic, ‘lived’ experience. History unfolds as the visitor walks from room to room, scene to scene.

Above all, the exhibition is about people; the convict men and later, the immigrant and asylum women and the Aboriginal people who were affected by the site - all leaving something of themselves in the story of this building.

Sydney Living Museums is working with internationally-acclaimed exhibit and media design specialists Local Projects to develop the realistic exhibition experience featuring an engaging narrative and using modern interpretative techniques, installations and unconventional interactive elements.

“The reinterpretation of such an iconic heritage site marks the site’s 200th anniversary and promises a bold, new look at the complex, challenging and inspiring stories of Sydney’s early history,” said The Hon. Don Harwin MLC, Minister for the Arts.


Why does Hyde Park Barracks Museum (HPBM) need a renewal? 

While preserving this UNESCO World Heritage-listed property, it is also important to note that museums periodically need to be updated and refreshed to meet modern standards of historical interpretation, public accessibility and, where appropriate, recognition of the traditional owners of the land.

It is 25 years since Hyde Park Barracks became a museum open to the public. Over that time, globally, techniques for historical interpretation and enhanced visitor engagement have changed dramatically.

In 2016, Sydney Living Museums undertook extensive audience research that highlighted the need for a broader master plan regarding the HPBM site which would enable site improvements and an enhanced visitor experience.

The HPBM renewal project has been developed to bring the property up to date offering an enhanced experience for a broad range of visitors across the entire site.

What is proposed in the renewal?

The HPBM renewal project is designed to create an active visitor journey focusing less on the written word and more on real-time experience that connects people today to the people of the past.

The HPBM renewal will include insights into:

  • the lived experience: what it felt like to be a convict, immigrant woman or asylum resident and the diversity of their stories.
  • the different perspectives: tensions between the official aim of institutional control and the reality of the people living in the barracks.
  • the role of Hyde Park Barracks in building Sydney: the barracks as a design instrument in service to different goals over time, beginning as an administrative centre for expanding the colony.
  • the Aboriginal narrative: the impact of the barracks, convicts and settlers on Aboriginal Australia and the complex story that continues today.
  • the significance of artefacts: what archaelogy and the material culture of the barracks can tell us about the people who lived there.

Key benefits of the HPBM renewal:

  • An enhanced visitor experience with a significantly larger number of diverse personal stories to be told and artefacts on display.
  • Greater accessibility with the installation of an internal free-standing lift.
  • The Story Guide, which will be available in multiple languages tailored for a broader audience.
  • An ongoing integrated education program.

Who is Local Projects

Local Projects is an internationally acclaimed, multi award-winning exhibition and media design company. Based in New York, Local Projects specialise in experience design and comprise a multidisciplinary team of designers, producers, animators, creative technologists, content strategists and architects.

The recipient of over 100 major international design awards, Local Projects is one of the world’s leading agencies in redefining visitor engagement within public spaces. Their expertise lies in bringing together architecture, technology and design, pushing the boundaries of human interaction to create emotional storytelling and memorable experiences.

How long will the renewal take and what impact will it have on public access? 

Hyde Park Barracks Museum is currently closed for the renewal work and will re-open in December 2019. During HPBM’s closure, the public will be able to read about interesting facts and updates on the SLM website.

Will the heritage integrity of HPBM be retained through the renewal? 

Yes, SLM has engaged heritage specialists to provide a comprehensive Conservation Management Plan, analysis of the building to ensure that a functioning, contemporary museum is able to coexist within the historic walls of the building. New displays and exhibitions will be based on a respect for the integrity of the building.

Will any heritage value be lost through the renewal? 

No heritage value will be compromised through the HPBM renewal project. To improve accessibility for visitors a lift will be installed within the footprint of the main HPBM building. Extensive examination of the building has been undertaken to identify the most appropriate location for the lift, which does not impinge on the heritage fabric of the building.

How much will the renewal cost and how will it be funded? 

The HPBM renewal is an $18-20M project reflecting the best in contemporary museum design and heritage visitor experience. The renewal project has been funded over a five year period through the Commonwealth Government’s Protecting National Historic Sites Grants and the NSW State Government’s 10 year Capital Maintenance Program. The majority of funds will come from the City of Sydney’s Heritage Floor Space program along with other SLM fundraising initiatives.