The State Library of New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s oldest library established in 1826, began as a modest book subscription service for colonials. Purchased in 1869 by NSW Government, the original library was expanded to form the Sydney Free Public Library with a stock of 20,000 volumes, becoming the first truly public library for the people of NSW.


Over the next 100 years the facilities were gradually expanded to incorporate growing collections, with the Mitchell Library and the Dixon Wing added to the historic Mitchell Building, followed later by the Macquarie Street wing to form the State Library of NSW.


In the first major building project for the Mitchell building in over 50 years, the State Library was revamped through a major $15 m redevelopment to deliver a stunning facility befitting its heritage status. The scheme, comprising upgrades of the Mitchell Building, including new exhibition spaces and a learning centre, was led by HASSELL architects and involved careful planning to ensure the heritage fabric of the building was respected and protected.

The vision was to activate heritage spaces while improving access in and around the Library’s historic Mitchell building and adjoining contemporary Macquarie Street building, facilitating greater engagement with the Library’s renowned collection.


Due to the age of the two existing buildings, this presented significant challenges since the life safety services were no longer compliant, making a full re-design of the fire engineering strategy a necessity. The new design, incorporating high-end amenities, was also required to accommodate high occupancies for functions, whilst offering tight humidity control and adherence to strict acoustic requirements.


Our team was engaged by the State Library of NSW to upgrade the life safety services of the Mitchell building and to create new exhibition and learning areas. We worked alongside HASSELL architects through all stages of the project, from master planning of both the Macquarie and Mitchell Building upgrades, through to design and construction.


Waterman’s Director, Richard Nicoliello, said: “We are delighted to have been involved with this scheme, helping protect and enhance one of Australia’s oldest and most important buildings. The development at the State Library of NSW greatly enhances the existing facilities, ready for future generations to explore our nation’s history and culture.”


Richard continues: “Working with such an historic building is a rare privilege in Australia. We approached the design of the development with a delicate touch to ensure the continued preservation and protection of our cultural and literary heritage, whilst updating safety systems and providing new facilities to ensure the library and its collections are protected and kept in the best condition in the coming years.”


In recognition of the project’s success, the scheme won the ‘Restoration/Adaptive Re-use of an Historic Building: $10-$25m’ award at the 2019 Master Builders Association’s (MBA’s) ‘Excellence in construction’ awards.