Sydney University has the most beautiful campus in the country.*
That is, unless you’re studying Linguistics.
The Linguistics professor at Sydney Uni is Bill Foley. He’s an expert in a New Guinea language called Yimas. (The only thing I really remember about Yimas is that it has the ability to fold the meaning of an entire sentence into a single-word construction. The Germans have nothing on these guys.) In the first lecture for Ling 101 he began by announcing where we could find the department: “In most universities the architecture** department has the ugliest building on campus. Here it’s the linguistics department.”
That building is the Transient Building, a corrugated fibro-clad blight on Fisher Road at the top of Physics Road.
It’s not strictly true that it’s the ugliest building on campus because there’s a nearly identical and equally ugly building*** on the perimeter overlooking Parramatta Road. But it’s ugly nonetheless:
As the name suggests, it was probably never intended to be still standing in 2009. It’s the university equivalent of the enduring high school demountable (although I suspect mosquitoes don’t breed in its power points as they did at a certain high school in Carlingford). Or, as one of my friends said the other day: “Transient since 1947.”
Meanwhile, some imaginative linguists and ethnomusicologists have decided that the Transient Building “symbolises” the impermanence of language. Surely the symbolism goes deeper than that? If this building symbolises anything it’s the sheer tenacity of language.
* I’ll grant that parts of Melbourne University, and the University of Western Australia with its Spanish Mission style buildings and Juliet balcony, both give Sydney Uni a run for its money, but Sydney still wins.
** According to the Sydney Architecture site, buildings such as this [what’s depicted as the Transient Building is in fact the Ross Street Building***] are “much-beloved” for their simplicity and flexibility and “should be heritage listed”. Hmm, perhaps that’s why the architecture department usually has the ugliest accommodation.