The building embodies the later development of state education in South Australia. Its antecedent was the original Model School in Grote Street. That school, built in 1873, is renowned as the basis for the design and erection of subsequent state schools required by the Education Act of 1875.
This building was added to by the later-established Teachers’ Training School, begun in 1876, and the state secondary school called the The Advanced School for Girls built in Grote Street in 1891. In 1908 these three institutions were amalgamated to form Adelaide High School.
Increasing enrolment causing overcrowding led to a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, which reported in 1938 that conditions were most unsatisfactory. The school was housed in five buildings in three locations, with playing fields located nearly a kilometre away from the Grote Street site.
A decision was made to erect a new school building. The first site selected was “contiguous with the Exhibition Building adjacent Frome Road”. This site was rejected and the present site endorsed.
Plans for the new boys’ high school were originally prepared by the Public Works architect-in-chief. Although approved by the minister of education, the plans were rejected because of the absence of an assembly hall. It was then decided that a competition for the most suitable design, incorporating a school hall, should be held.
In 1940, Sydney architects Edward B. Fitzgerald and John K. Brogan won a nationwide competition that attracted more than 60 designs. However, the outbreak of war delayed building until 1947.
The new school, built by A.W. Baulderstone for £90,000, opened in 1951. The magazine Architecture described it as follows: “Two radial classroom wings converged upon a curved block, which forms the main feature of the building facing West Terrace. The two wings are linked at the western end by a workshop section, thus enclosing a spacious quadrangle and protecting it from prevailing winds. One liberally planned area for outdoor assembly and exercise purposes is considered more generally useful for a Boys’ School than the two smaller areas some planners submitted, these being better suited to a mixed school. The two class-room flanks bearing in toward the office or administrative zone tend to economise in corridor length, and so reduce student traffic within the building.”
The parapet walls hiding the roofs, continuous horizontal window lines, curved elements and corners are examples of the “modern” aesthetic , which had as its basic philosophy the formal recognition of each function.
In 1977-78 the school became co-educational and in 1982 new additions, sympathetic to the original, were opened.