University of Sydney Quadrangle

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The Quadrangle, the University of Sydney

The Quadrangle is a prominent sandstone building located within the University of Sydney Camperdown Campus. Construction on the quadrangle began in 1854, it had four sides by 1926,[1] and was completed in the 1960s after several stages of development. It comprises the Great Hall, Faculty of Arts office and the Nicholson Museum. The Traditional Indigenous owners of the land on which the Quadrangle was built belonged to the Cadigal and Wangal tribes of the Eora people.[2] The main entrance - constructed first along with the Great Hall - is underneath the clock tower, which hold one of only two carillons in Australia.[3]

Robert Strachan Wallace, the university's vice chancellor from 1928 to 1947, upon taking up his position found the quadrangle to be "overgrown, and the grounds much worse repair". He embarked on a restoration program, for which he became known as the "building vice chancellor".[4]


The Quadrangle design is based on those of Oxford and Cambridge. It contains one of only two carillons in Australia, the other being the one on Aspen Island in Canberra.

The Quadrangle is categorised under Sandstone Universities which are informally known as Australia's oldest universities. Commonly known as the first building for Australia's first university, the Quadrangle itself is built in an anachronistic style, which was already outdated by the time it was built, therefore having no connections other than connecting with other elite institutions, such as Oxford and Cambridge University. The architect responsible for the design of the Quadrangle is Edmund Blacket who is also known for other works in Sydney such as St. Andrew's Cathedral. Blacket primarily focused on Victorian Gothic Revival architecture, which influenced James Barnet's design of Sydney University's Andersen Stuart Building. In 1924, the Quadrangle comprised four walls, in which are included bronze pipes which state the year they were placed. The final completion of the Quadrangle's exterior display was during the 1960s, which included work on the West Tower.[5]

Gargoyles are characteristic of Neo-gothic medieval architecture, and thus they can be spotted on the walls of the Quadrangle. In their functional role, they serve the purpose of waterspouts and drains from buildings. When they are used in a decorative function, they are called 'grotesque.' Both forms can be found around the Quadrangle. Traditionally, gargoyles were often fantastical and mythical creatures, but in the turn of the 12th century stonemasons started incorporating real animals. There are a variety of gargolyes located across the Quadrangle building and towers. The abundance of a variety of gargoyles featured in the Quadrangle’s architecture relates to their symbolic role of warding off evil spirits in the Catholic tradition. Such medieval influences, although partially appropriated to a local context, directly mimic designs of esteemed Cambridge and Oxford universities in England.[6] It contains the Great Hall, which holds an organ designed by Rudolf von Beckerath of Hamburg.

In the 1850s, under the direction of Blacket, three stonemasons worked on the clock tower gargoyles: Joseph Popplewell, Edwin Colley, and James Barnett. The infusion of Australian flora and fauna with traditional medieval neo-Gothic influences is evident in the Quadrangle’s unique features. There is a kangaroo gargoyle on the clocktower (right hand side, facing towards the city) and a crocodile gargoyle on the inside of the clock tower, that are different from the traditional gargoyles on the Quadrangle. In addition there are kookaburras above the entrance to the northern foyer.[7]

The Jacaranda Tree[edit]

A jacaranda tree was planted in 1927 by Professor E. G. Waterhouse in preparation for a visit by the Duke and Duchess of York to the university in 1927. A number of trees planted earlier by Waterhouse had been cut down in 1938, possibly as a prank,[8] but the jacaranda tree that survived was too large for students to remove.[9] It has grown to more than 18 metres in diameter.[10]

A panoramic photograph of the Quadrangle
The Main Quadrangle of the University of Sydney

A campus myth pertaining to the Jacaranda tree is well-known amongst Sydney University students. The myth suggests that the flowering of the Jacaranda tree is a clear sign for students to begin studying and revising for end of semester exams, otherwise they will surely fail exams.[11] This myth is passed through generations of Sydney University students by word of mouth, campus tour guides, small talk when walking through the quad, and instagram captions.

Maintenance and Grounds Keeping[edit]

The University of Sydney established a Conservation of Grounds Plan in October 2002.[12] Being the most photographed area in the university, and having a one-hour heritage tour, the Main Quadrangle must keep up its appearances.[13] Of the many, three policies are stated in order to maintain and conserve the vegetation and foliage of the university's grounds including the Main Quadrangle.

These three are:

  • Policy Seven: When significant trees such as the Jacaranda tree in the Main Quadrangle age significantly or decease, they should be replaced with an identical tree.[12]
  • Policy Eight: Trees and vegetation that are highly important to the image of the heritage buildings such as the infamous purple tree in the Main Quadrangle and the manicured green grass must be preserved. This is evident in how ropes and bollards are put up in order to prevent students and tourists soiling the newly planted grass.[12]
  • Policy Nine: Pruning of vegetation such as the Ivy on the archway should be well kept in order to sustain views and accessibility.[12]


  1. ^ "THE FINISHED QUADRANGLE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 17 April 1926. p. 11. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Maison, Marc. ‘Neo-Gothic Style.’ N.p.,2015. Web.3 Apr.2015
  4. ^ "University's "Building Vice-Chancellor"". The Sydney Morning Herald. 3 December 1946. p. 2. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Goodchild, Lester F. (2000). "Oxbridge’s Tudor Gothic influences on American academic architecture". Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of the History of Education 36 (1): 266–298. doi:10.1080/0030923000360113. Retrieved 10 April 2015. 
  7. ^ Barker, Craig. "Dr". The University of Sydney. Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  8. ^ "News In Brief.". The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW: National Library of Australia). 12 July 1938. p. 1 Edition: HOME EDITION. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  9. ^
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  12. ^ a b c d
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