This “temporary structure” was built in brick because of the meagre funds available. Despite its modest red brick form, it has a sense of functional significance among North Terrace public buildings. Although the glass front added to house large mammal bones has detracted from its original modest character, most South Australians readily identify this building as part of the museum regardless of its architectural deficiencies.
The wing, desperately needed because of lack of space, was a compromise until finances would allow the originally planned cut stone building to be built. Superintendent of Public Works C.E. Owen Smyth designed it, and it was built by T. Gregg for a modest tender of £8500. It was opened in 1895.
In 1923, many years after the 1890s depression, Owen Smyth wrote that the North Wing was a “much abused and even now, much misunderstood building”. He recalled being criticised for a long time “for perpetuating such an atrocity but, he argued, there was no possible hope in the early 90s of the South Australian Government voting £40,000 for a cut stone building: and further, the red brick building was intended to be masked and will be before very long”.
Two years later, in 1925, the Register praised Owen Smyth in his obituary, stating that “no one was better qualified to ‘get things done’ expeditiously and economically and well”.
In fact the building is not completely plain. In 1895 the Observer described its facade as of “Romanesque style, assimilated as far as possible to the building adjacent, and picked out with moulded plinths, bands, cornices, etc. with terracotta dressing to the windows ... All around the interior of the building some galleries 13 feet 6 inches wide [are] supported on rows of handsome cast-iron columns of colonial manufacture and these are approached from the main hall by a broad and very imposing staircase.”
There were also some very sensible features. Northern windows were shuttered to keep out the fierce glare, while daylight from the south was supplemented by artificial light from the large lantern. A wood and glass panelled porch screened the front.
In contrast to Owen Smyth’s recollections, the Observer concluded that the “spacious airy hall [had] a very pleasing and effective appearance”.