Saturday, 18 November 2006

campus romance

Harry wrote this comment recently:

LTU is - in terms of natural beauty - one of the best places to work in Melbourne and one of the best campuses in Australia. (I think the ANU comes close).

Most people who spend a bit of time at La Trobe's main campus would be hard pressed to disagree with this remark. The detail about it being natural beauty that's so remarkable is the normal form of LTU campus endorsement. Sometimes people will go on to specify that the grounds are lovely but the buildings are horrible. It's not true!
Too few Australians know how to value 1960s brown brick and concrete architecture - decades of widespread and baseless sneering at "mission brown" might be to blame for that - and I firmly believe that if doubters could set aside their colour-scheme prejudices they would see how extraordinary and wonderful a success the LTU campus has actually turned out to be. You can see I am besotted. The part of the year when the jacarandas flower has just ended, unfortunately, so I missed the chance to take pictures of the season of most obvious beauty, but for the next few days I'll try to compensate with some pictures of my favourite campus things and places.

Leonard French stained glass panels

The main approach to the campus fetches up at the main administration building which is raised off the ground. You get off the bus and walk underneath it and into (or around) what's effectively a quadrangle crossed with a walled garden. The main public space in the university is also a walled open area, and there are lots of lesser repetitions of free open space enclosed and protected by solid, unobtrusive buildings. It's the spatial representation of one immensely powerful idea of what a university is. So this first portal / transition place is important and that's reinforced by these four amazing stained glass panels which mark the division between the bus stop and the garden (which is unfortunately known as 'the vice-chancellor's garden', since his office overlooks it).

The glass is richly and delicately coloured and heavy like thick impasto oil paint but it's also bright and translucent. Intense and intricately subtle but lucid and structured. Independent fragments composed into order and harmony. The glass takes light from the atmosphere and gives it back as colour.

It's kind of a pity that immediately behind these beautiful objects is placed one of the most vapid pieces of sculpture imaginable:



David said...

Compare with Macquarie and Monash. Particularly Monash as it was so radical even early in the day and LaT was to some degree planned with broken-up spaces so no-one could congregate en masse with intent anywhere that led anywhere. Or am I wrong.

Have you seen Yakety Yak?

lucy tartan said...

I haven't seen it and furthermore I don't know what you're talking about.

The version of the anti-civil-disobedience story I heard is that the moat and the ring road were put there to help the police isolate and lock down the campus if the rioting gets out of control. Heh!

I've never been to Macquarie and haven't really spent enough time at Monash to understand it. It seems like a random scatter of buildings to me. Melbourne feels similar only more cramped.

Zoe said...

A lovely post, Laura. Do you know ANU or Canberra well? Harry is wise to praise it.

The National Library has beautiful (enormous) Leonard French windows, and ANU has some of his paintings (there's a speech about them here, which has about 8 blank pages appended for some reason). Nearly every night for the two years I lived in college I ate dinner in a room with his "Seven Days" series.

Weirdly, ANU also has a large collection of terrible sculpture.

dogpossum said...

More, more!
Write about the nice little gardens inbetween the buildings around the walled garden and ... the other buildings.

And about the turtles in the moat!

And about Ping's!

lucy tartan said...

I only know ANU from pictures and from out the window of a moving vehicle being driven by soemone who is not specially enjoying navigating in Canberra.

But La Trobe also has the folk wisdom about how you're stuffed if you haven't begun to study for exams by the time the fluff drops off the elm trees. So I think the vegetation is probably fairly similar.

Dogpossum, since reading your line about students lying basking on the Simpson Place lawn like seals and walruses I can't see them any other way.

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

those glass pieces are Hawt!

Bernice said...

I'd throw in the Sandy Bay campus of the Uni of Tas. Though it has been a while since I've seen it...

Ampersand Duck said...

ANU has glorious grounds, and its buildings are pretty interesting too, especially the newer ones. It has a lot of money for building at the moment and nothing for anything or anyone else. The art school was told recently that if we wanted a new building we could have it, but there was no money for staff or things to put in the building. Isn't that ridiculous?

David said...

Yakety Yak was a film made on the Latrobe campus in the early 70s when it was still being built. Besides which it's a funny film.

I don't go for UTas Sandy Bay much (some buildings are OK). I do like LaTrobe; I also like UQ at St Lucia, and the main Griffith campus is good; ANU is delightful in many ways; Monash is god-awful (which is why I said compare!) and Deakin Geelong has some things going for it. Of the sandstones, I reckon UWA is best; perhaps U Syd next? That pretty much leaves U Melb. I've never been to University of Adelaide and only one minor campus of University of SA. Flinders is pretty amazing.

Ben.H said...

Griffith University (the original campus, at Nathan) was definitely designed without any central meeting area to prevent seditious congregations: a ring road containing a long pedestrian corridor, with the different faculties kept well segregated into isolated buildings. However, the campus is a hilltop of state forest, with as little native vegetation as possible cleared for the buildings, so it's beautiful if you're on a nature trip.