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The Hyde Park Barracks Museum Renewal


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A UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, the Hyde Park Barracks was the administrative hub for Britain's transportation program, moving convicts to Australia as forced labor for building the colony. Today, it stands as an extraordinary living record of early colonial Australia. Today the Barracks is a cutting-edge museum using innovative location-tracking technology and an immersive audio guide to offer a novel approach to historical narrative and place-based storytelling, and visitor engagement.

Together with Sydney Living Museums, our firm was engaged to transform the Museum, weaving together various narratives including the Aboriginal experience of colonisation.

After a 12-month long transformation of the visitor experience, interpretation and facilities, the Hyde Park Barracks officially reopened to the public on 21 February 2020. The $22 million project has elevated the Hyde Park Barracks to an international level and will be an exemplary case study for experiential storytelling within a place-based museum.


Sydney Living Museums undertook extensive audience research to inform the Hyde Park Barracks Museum Interpretation Master Plan, and our design approach responds accordingly. The exhibition program is transformed, weaving together narratives from a variety of perspectives and immersing visitors in the world of the Barracks’ former occupants.

Utilizing state-of-the-art bluetooth audio technology and visitor tracking software, visitors are embedded in soundscapes, paint scenes with their presence, bring historical characters to life, explore convict-era projected tattoos, hoist shackles and try on period clothing, and more. They hear the lived experience of convicts, immigrant women, and Aboriginal people impacted by European settlement, providing them the opportunity to learn and connect emotionally with these stories and their legacy for Australia.

Visitors also hear from contemporary voices whose reflections on the Barracks bring its legacy into relevance today.


Notable experiences include:

Introducing visitors to a young convict as he’s convicted in English court and sent to Australia. Visitors move from an immersive, floor-to-ceiling graphic treatment featuring the names, ages, and sentences of fellow convicts into a gallery featuring large projection scrims hanging in tight arrangement suggesting a boat and mirrors the vast ocean.

A projected panorama recreates the Sydney of 1815, where convicts made landfall after their journey. Visitors activate animated vignettes within the historical image, including depictions of convict and Aboriginal experiences.

A sculptural form spans two galleries, connecting a series of dioramas that illustrate scenes of convict experiences building Sydney, and the impact of this activity on Aboriginal communities.

An array of life-size screens features a rotating selection of contemporary figures reflecting on the building’s history: their personal or cultural connection to it; its impact on Aboriginal communities; and its ongoing legacy.


The Hyde Park Barracks Museum successfully tapped the broader community to integrate multiple perspectives into the museum’s narrative, including incorporation of Aboriginal stories. Previously, the museum explored the experience of the convict population in-depth, but did not fully acknowledge the site’s role as an agent of colonial change. Client and designer collaborated to tell a more complete story of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, including its impact on Aboriginal Australia.

8,000 visitors safely experienced the new Hyde Park Barracks Museum within the first weeks of opening, before COVID-19 forced the museum to close temporarily until June. Since that time, the museum has seen a steady return of visitors and is currently open 4 days a week. It received both the Best Permanent Exhibition at Australia's Museums and Galleries National Awards, and the 2020 Trip Advisor Traveler's Choice award for having some of the highest ratings of any attraction in Sydney.