1900–16 additions, Spain, Cosh & Minnett
2004 adaptation and conservation, Group GSA with OCP Architects as heritage architect
Trades Hall was built by union members as a meeting place for trade unionists and to develop literacy and education for the workers of NSW.
The trades hall and literary institute was originally designed by Australia’s first locally born architect, John Smedley, who had also practised in Japan and opened an office in Yokohama in 1872. It included union offices, meeting rooms and a wonderful library. Having opened in 1895, Trades Hall was subsequently enlarged in stages (1900, 1912 and 1916) by Spain, Cosh & Minnett, architects of Sydney’s first skyscraper, the 1911 Culwulla Chambers.
But its architectural pedigree pales in comparison to the role this building would play in Australia’s modern political history. The hall was home to Radio 2KY, reportedly the world’s first labour movement broadcaster, and the base for the eight-hour working day campaign, which originated in Sydney in 1855. Australia’s first Labor Party prime minister, John Watson (who held office briefly from April to August 1904), had his offices in this building, as President of the Labor Council of NSW.
Years later, it was here that the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) was conceived by Jock Garden, then Labor Council secretary. It was also here, at an ALP state conference in 1949, that Ben Chifley gave his ‘Light on the Hill’ speech – one of Australia’s most famous political speeches to this day.
Trades Hall has also hosted many progressive movements, such as the Union of Australian Women; Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad (APHEDA); and the May Day Committee. It is also home to Australia’s largest collection of trade union banners.
Not only of great heritage significance to the NSW trade union movement, the four-storey Trades Hall building forms a dominant presence in Haymarket with its crafted brick and sandstone facade and five-storey octagonal tower with copper roof and cupola.
In 2003, Trades Hall underwent a conservation and adaptive re-use by Group GSA and Otto Cserhalmi & Partners (OCP) heritage architects. They upgraded the building services, created a new light-filled core and interpreted the heritage collections. Key to their adaptation was the idea of ‘union’, which was expressed architecturally by a new central atrium and courtyard – a ‘coming together’ of the historical and contemporary components.
Atrium, Library, Banner room and ground floor exhibition space