University of Sydney Quadrangle

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

The Quadrangle is a prominent building of Sydney sandstone 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 Sydney 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 are 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 holds 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, the University of Sydney

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

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building for Australia's first university, the Quadrangle itself is built in an anachronistic style, which was already outdated by the time it was built.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 gargoyles 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; 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]

The Jacaranda tree in the quadrangle in full bloom. Philosophy classes were held in the rooms behind it.

A jacaranda tree was planted in the main quadrangle in 1928 by Professor E. G. Waterhouse, who was also a keen horticulturalist and dedicated contributor to the landscape design of the university. The tree was a well-loved specimen that served as the background to many graduations and private events before its death in 2016. Its flowering at examination time was believed to be a clear sign that students should start studying.

The Philosophy Room[edit]

The Philosophy Room located within the quadrangle is home to two murals which are placed at the back of the room. On the 14 November 1921, these two mural decorations were unveiled in the Philosophy Room within the quadrangle at the University of Sydney. They were painted by Mr. Norman Carter and were commissioned to celebrate the 30 years of work of Professor Francis Anderson.[9] One mural depicts Socrates, Aristotle and Plato together whilst the other depicts Descartes, Bacon and Spinoza.[10] Both murals were unveiled by Professor Anderson's wife.

Maintenance and groundskeeping[edit]

The University of Sydney established a Conservation of Grounds Plan in October 2002.[11] Being the most photographed area in the university, and having a one-hour heritage tour, the Main Quadrangle must keep up its appearances.[12] 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.[11]
  • 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.[11]
  • Policy Nine: Pruning of vegetation such as the Ivy on the archway should be well kept in order to sustain views and accessibility.[11]


  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. 36 (1): 266–298. doi:10.1080/0030923000360113.
  8. ^ Barker, Craig. "Dr". The University of Sydney. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  9. ^ Design, UBC Web. "Sir Francis Anderson (Murals) | Monument Australia". Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  10. ^ "Norman St Clair Carter biography at Design and Art Australia Online". Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  11. ^ a b c d
  12. ^

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