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The Impossible University

1 We visit the University of Adelaide. The University of Adelaide is impossible, in numerous senses of that word. I will bring out some of these. Approaching the university from the south, and looking north, we are struck by the vision of beautiful Bonython Hall.

Image: Peter Quigley points out that there is something of a pastiche of styles in the architecture of Bonython Hall and Elder Hall, which might therefore be described as stylistically inconsistent. Of course the university as a whole is architecturally inconsistent, but perhaps we should not inquire into that too closely.
2 But not all is as it seems. Circling to the east and looking at the eastern side of Bonython Hall, we see an unusual sight. There is an incongruity between the plaza, door, pillars and flowerboxes.

Image: follows work by Jos de May
3 Proceeding further and circling to the north, we encounter some strange bicycle racks. These bicycle racks occlude one another in an impossible way.

Images: explicit occlusion illusion. Many if not all impossible images exploit inconsistent occlusions.
4 When bicycles are locked to these racks, it seems that it would be impossible to steal them, unless perhaps the thief had an inconsistent key!

Images: explicit occlusion illusion. Many if not all impossible images exploit inconsistent occlusions.
5 We proceed south, between the western side of Bonython Hall and the eastern side of Elder Hall. High over the door, Elder Hall has in its brickwork an impossible triangle, after the fashion of Reutersvärd and the Penroses.

Image: contains what is commonly called a “Penrose triangle”, first discovered by Reutersvärd.
6 Walking further south, we come upon the statue of Sir Thomas Elder below. The statue stands on a plinth with impossible steps.

Image: follows a paradox of stairs which seems to have been first drawn by Bruno Ernst.
7 Moving a little back south from Elder's statue, we pass under an inconsistent arch of cubes at the entrance to the lawns of Goodmans Cresesent. The cubes are made from the cubic stone bollards erected as a barrier from the tsunamis which affect this part of the world.

Image: plays on Opus 1 (1934) and Opus 2B(1940), both by Oscar Reutersvärd, to form its paradox.
8 Turning to look below at the west wing of Bonython Hall close by, we see that inconsistent steps are all over the place.

Image: follows a paradox of stairs which seems to have been first drawn by Bruno Ernst.
9 We turn and enter Elder Hall. The mighty organ has odd-looking outer pipes. These remind us of Schuster's Fork. Sometimes the organ produces impossible sounds too.

Image:  is an attempt at a Schuster fork (also known as the Devil's Fork). This paradox first appears, as far as I can tell, in 1964, drawn by D.H. Schuster.
10 We proceed out of the western entrance of Elder Hall to the Wills water garden. The rocks and water of the waterfall form an impossible Necker cube.

Image: The impossible Necker is a development of the"Crazy Crate", which also appears in the detail of Escher's Belvedere.
11 We make our way northward to the Hughes Plaza. First to be seen are the strange occlusions of the pergola.

Image: occlusion illusion
12 Then, still on the Hughes Plaza, there is the pergola in front of the Barr Smith Library, with more impossible occlusions.

Image: occlusion illusion
13 Escher liked puddles. They disclose unexpected aspects of our world.

Image: is arguably not a visual paradox. As an inconsistent image, it reflects Mercier's Oscar's Bowtie (see John Mercier's gallery page, top row, far right), Reutersvard's Opus 1, and Penrose's tribar. There are several masterpieces by Esher which exploit reflections: this image is perhaps closest to his Puddle.
14 Turning and looking to the north and west, we can see some Schuster-like pipes on top of the Darling building, of the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences. What strange impossible emissions come from the pipes?

Image: is another attempt at a Schuster Fork. Note the shadow on the roof. Schuster forks, while easy to draw, are surprisingly hard to photograph. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that they seem to be mathematically different as well.
15 A strange tree-like sculpture created by Clifford Frith is seen in the Plaza, with forbidden occlusions.

Image: occlusion illusion. Clifford Frith's semi-transparent sculpture Floral Pasquinade, 1988 (image 15) sits in the middle of the Hughes Plaza yet is impossibly threaded through the western face of the Hughes building.
16 Of course the Plaza contains the stairs upward from one edge of the sunken garden to the other edge. This kind of image was pioneered by Oscar Reutersvärd, but perhaps he did not expect that it can be found and photographed in the impossible university.

Image: Reutersvärd again!
17 Before we conclude our journey we detour for coffee at the Union cafeteria, with a view through the cloisters to the river Torrens.

Image: This derives from the arches of Escher's Belvedere
18 Proceeding in an easterly direction to the north of Elder Hall, we encounter a lift. Or is it a Police Box? And what strange knot in spacetime on the right of the image awaits the traveller in the Police Box?

Image: The Tardis. Anything is Possible. The sculpture on the rightis Greg Johns Dual
19 The Tardis Lift has many unexpected entrances and exits in the impossible university.

Image: Reutersvard-Penrose Triangles. For the benefit of international viewers, a lift is an elevator.
20 Clearly a well-used route to the Tardis Lift and Places Far Beyond.

Image: Again a Reutersvard triangle.
21 Running to and from lectures can get you trapped in an ever-descending loop, or an ever-ascending one. It's up to you which you make of your studies at the impossible university.

Image: Suggested by Escher's masterpiece Ascending and Descending.
22 Nearby, an impossible scaffold is built onto the Napier building.

Image: Clearly an occlusion illusion, deriving from an inconsistent Necker cube.
23 She's climbing that Stairway to Heaven. We return to the front of Bonython Hall, where we began. But things change in a dynamic universe. The twisted ladder may help her on her journey into The Unknown.

Image: This is of the type of Ernst's stairs. It was suggested by Sandro Del-Prete's Spiral Staircase to Belvedere II (1966) and his The Impossible Chess Set (1975).

This brings us to the end of our journey. For now.

Script: Chris Mortensen
Special Effects Artwork: Peter Quigley
Camera: Steve Leishman and Peter Quigley
Creative Input: all of the above: comments to: chris.mortensen@adelaide.edu.au
Thanks to: Andrew Kelleher

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August 2007. Last updated 15th April 2008

This project is conducted within the Department of Philosophy, University of Adelaide

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