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. Taking over 100 years to complete, the Quadrangle was designed and developed by numerous contributors including Edmund Blacket, James Barnet, and Leslie Wilkinson.The original building included the Great Hall and was constructed between 1855 and 1862. 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, MacLaurin Hall, Faculty of Arts office and the Nicholson Museum. MacLaurin Hall was constructed from 1902-1904 and was designed by Walter Liberty Vernon. The architectural style of the Quadrangle is gothic revival. The building is mostly constructed of sandstone and is unique in the Australian architectural landscape. At the time of its completion, the Quadrangle was ‘the largest public building in the colony.’[2]The Traditional Indigenous owners of the land on which the Quadrangle was built belonged to the Cadigal and Wangal tribes of the Eora people.[3] The main entrance - constructed first along with the Great Hall - is underneath the clock tower, which hold one of only two carillons in Australia.[4]

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".[5]


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building for Australia's first university, the Quadrangle itself is built in an anachronistic style, which was already outdated by the time it was built. Edmund Blacket , one of the architects responsible for the design of the Quadrangle, was 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.[6]

There are a variety of gargolyes located across the walls of the Quadrangle and its towers. Some serve the functional purpose of waterspouts and draining water from buildings, but many are simply decorative gargoyles, also known as 'grotesque.' The abundance of a variety of gargoyles featured in the Quadrangle’s architecture relates to gargoyles being characteristic of Neo-gothic medieval architecture, as they have a symbolic role of warding off evil spirits in the Catholic tradition. Traditionally, gargoyles often depicted fantastical and mythical creatures, but in the turn of the 12th century stonemasons started incorporating real animals, hence both kinds of creatures can be found on the Quadrangle. Such medieval influenced architecture, although partially appropriated to a local context, directly mimic designs of esteemed Cambridge and Oxford universities in England.[7]

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 some of the Quadrangle’s distinctive gargoyles. 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.[8]

The Quadrangle also contains the Great Hall, which holds an organ designed by Rudolf von Beckerath of Hamburg.

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,[9] but the jacaranda tree that survived was too large for students to remove.[10] It has grown to more than 18 metres in diameter.[11]

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

A campus myth relating 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.[12] 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.[13] Being the most photographed area in the university, and having a one-hour heritage tour, the Main Quadrangle must keep up its appearances.[14] 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.[13]
  • 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.[13]
  • Policy Nine: Pruning of vegetation such as the Ivy on the archway should be well kept in order to sustain views and accessibility.[13]


  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. ^ Unknown. "Main Building and Quadrangle Group, University of Sydney Including Interiors". NSW Government Office of Environment & Heritage
  3. ^
  4. ^ Maison, Marc. ‘Neo-Gothic Style.’ N.p.,2015. Web.3 Apr.2015
  5. ^ "University's "Building Vice-Chancellor"". The Sydney Morning Herald. 3 December 1946. p. 2. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Barker, Craig. "Dr". The University of Sydney. Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "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. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b c d
  14. ^

Coordinates: 33°53′09″S 151°11′20″E / 33.8859°S 151.1888°E / -33.8859; 151.1888