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The Impossible University
A Visual Essay
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
This brings us to the end of our journey. For now.
Script: Chris Mortensen
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August 2007. Last updated 15th April 2008
Notes and Acknowledgements
Image 1 (South face of Bonython Hall), 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.
Many of the following images were first discovered by the great Oscar Reutersvärd. In addition:
Image 2 (East face of Bonython Hall), follows work by Jos de May
Image 5 (Impossible Stone Triangle, Eastern Exit, Ellder Hall), contains what is commonly called a “Penrose triangle”, first discovered by Reutersvärd.
Images 6 (Statue of Elder standing on an inconsistent Plinth) and 8 (Steps, west wing, Bonython Hall), follow a paradox of stairs which seems to have been first drawn by Bruno Ernst.
Image 7 (Arch of Impossible Cubes) plays on Opus 1 (1934) and Opus 2B(1940), both by Oscar Reutersvärd, to form its paradox.
Image 9 (Elder Hall Organ), 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.
Image 10 (Necker cube, Pond Garden Waterfall, Wills Building). The impossible Necker is a development of the"Crazy Crate", which also appears in the detail of Escher's Belvedere.
Images 11 (Hughes Plaza Pergola), and 12 (Barr Smith Building Impossibly Threaded through the Hughes Pergola), are more occlusion illusions. 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.
Image 13 (Puddle, Hughes Plaza), 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.
Image 14 (Chimneys, Environmental Sciences Building), 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.
Image 16 (Impossible Stairs, Hughes Plaza), Reutersvärd again!
Image 17 (Cloisters, Students Union). This derives from the arches of Escher's Belvedere
Image 18 (Tardis Lift). The Tardis. Anything is Possible. The sculpture on the rightis Greg Johns Dual
Image 19 (Tardis Lift on Three Levels). Reutersvard-Penrose Triangles. For the benefit of international viewers, a lift is an elevator.
Image 20 (Lift Path). Again a Reutersvard triangle.
Image 21 (Ascending and Descending Aspirations). Suggested by Escher's masterpiece Ascending and Descending.
Image 22 (Napier Cube). Clearly an occlusion illusion, deriving from an inconsistent Necker cube.
Image 23 (She's Climbing a Stairway to Heaven). 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 project is conducted within the Department of Philosophy, University of Adelaide
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