Light to Create


The old Darlinghurst Gaol was converted in the early 1920s to become the East Sydney Technical College – now the National Art School. The largest building on the site, the gaol workshops, had been empty since 2005 when major renovations started in 2014.

VELUX skylights were an integral part of the solution, explain CEO Michael Snelling and COO Sue Procter…

Leaking Roof, Little Light

“We are the largest non-university art school in the country and since 2005 the sole occupant of the old Darlinghurst Gaol site,” says Michael.

“The largest building on the campus – the old gaol workshops – hadn’t been in use for almost 10 years when renovations began in 2014. The building was semiderelict with a leaking roof and very little natural light…”

Simple Needs

“We were on a tight budget but an art school’s needs are quite basic,” explains Sue. “We need open spaces, a roof that doesn’t leak, and natural light – everything else is an optional extra.

So a new roof was a key part of the renovations and 80 VELUX skylights supply the natural light we require.

The skylights are in a dark and dingy part of the building – getting natural light in was absolutely paramount.”

From Goal Workshops to Art Workshops

“We wanted to convert the old gaol workshops to modern workshops for our art students,”

Michael continues. “At the southern end, the building was used by a cooking school up until 2005 and the VELUX skylights were installed where the cooking school had its ventilation shafts.

Cooking needs ventilation…art needs light.”


Architect Barry McGregor has spent 35 years of his career giving new life to old buildings. He has developed a master plan for the conservation of the old Darlinghurst Gaol heritage site and the renovation of the old workshop building was the first major project…

Two Stories Become Three

“During the renovations in the 1920s, the 110m long sandstone building had been converted from three to two stories.

The art school needed floor space so one of the requirements was to convert the building back to three stories. Another requirement was a design that allowed students to move artwork freely around.”

Heritage and Budget Challenges

In this case we had to do it on a very tight budget – a concept not foreign to young developing artists – so the building is rough and ready in places.

“Work on a heritage site is always exciting, I love to find ways to make old and new coexist.

The exterior walls, some dating back to 1822-1824, are partly exposed and raw steel, timber and plywood add to a highly functional design.”

Natural Light by VELUX

“Art needs natural light and there certainly wasn’t a lot of that in the old gaol workshops.

The solution was right above us: installing VELUX skylights where the old kitchen ventilation shafts were would satisfy our need for natural light.”

Cooking needs ventilation…art needs light.”


The oldest part of the building – the Darlinghurst Road wall – was built in 1822-24 and the building dates from 1862-1880. How does a 21st century high tech product like VELUX skylights suit an old heritage site? Architect Barry McGregor explains…

VELUX brings the room to life

Natural light brings the room to life – blue skies, the glimpse of a tree, a ray of sunshine…letting the outside in adds a spark of inspiration.”

To that end the VELUX skylights were absolutely critical. Without them the building would rely almost entirely on artificial light.

Energy Savings

“Some see VELUX as a luxury statement, I see it as a high tech architectural component.

VELUX skylights provide free daylight – most of the time the lights are off – and their thermal properties help keep heating and cooling costs down.

Visually they add height to the room and make it more interesting. They are great value.”

No Compromise

“I specified VELUX outright. I didn’t want tenderers to shop around, knowing that we would end up with a lower grade product.

We would – and did – accept other savings but we wouldn’t compromise on the skylights. VELUX skylights are tested under extreme conditions and their longevity can be trusted.

I expect them to still be there 50 years from now.”


Click here to download the full National Art School Velux Skylights Case Study