It was an unseasonably warm 24 degrees Celsius in Sydney today, so I took the opportunity to walk from Chatswood to Lindfield to explore the now-abandoned University of Technology Sydney campus at Kuring-gai. The campus, which is nestled in attractive bushland close to Lane Cove National Park, was closed down in November 2015, after the university decided to relocate its students, en masse, to the Ultimo campus. The Kuring-gai campus will eventually be turned into a new school (Kindergarten through to year 12), to compensate for the current over-crowding in many North Shore schools. (The school was initially set to be open in 2017, but has now been pushed back to 2019). For now, the campus is only frequented by residents of the housing development Crimson Hill, located just beside the campus itself.
The campus, with its endless brown brick buildings, was well-known for its design and architecture; the green carpets and pink (actually fuchsia) handrails in particular have since become iconic, complimenting the green outlook. James Cottam, in his article ‘It’s not easy being green’, says that ‘one of the first things to leap out at any new arrival to Kuring-gai has always been the vibrant green carpet and fuchsia handrails.’ Historians Cliff Turney and Judy Taylor, meanwhile, note that the carpet was designed exclusively for the campus, with ‘the bright green of the carpet contrasting with the soft greens of the bush and the grey of the concrete.’ But on the webpage ‘What made Kuring-gai special (It’s not just the carpet!), it states: ‘In sharing their fondest memories, few fail to mention the canopy of green outside or the carpet of green inside. But it turns out that its best qualities are its well-developed sense of community.’
One Reddit page is dedicated to a person asking if they can still visit the campus. One former student writes: ‘I loved studying there. The green carpet was the best. And the views from the library, the bushland aspect on a rainy day to study up for assignments – stunning!’, while another simply writes: ‘Just wanna see that green carpet one last time?’
The campus itself belongs to the European ‘Brutalist’ style of architecture (as was common with universities in the 1960s), and was designed by architect David Don Turner and landscape architect Bruce Mackenzie. I never studied at UTS, but I attended the university during opening week back in 2008. Eight years later, the university is now mostly deserted, the roads and lanes covered in leaves, with only the construction crew hanging around. The old UTS bus stop and timetable is still there, with more cobwebs.
The campus has become a peculiar site now that it is devoid of students; it generates a poignant air of both real and imagined nostalgia. The buildings radiate an unknown, unseen history. As I wander about the lonely roads, looking at the empty bike racks and noiseless classrooms, I feel melancholy on behalf of students who actually built experiences there. In the desolate hallways I can see the imagined shadows of past lives.
Doors to the buildings are locked, covered with security signs, so I peer in through the windows. The vibrant green carpets and pink handrails are still there, as are all the street signs on the road pointing out the various campus buildings. There are no sports teams playing on the oval, which is wide and still dazzlingly green, with only a magpie making use of the space. A banner appears on the outside of the sports centre, advertising for the next boot camp, which will never happen.
Remnants of university life can be seen scattered around the campus, such as an item of clothing from H&M, an old class paper on the ground, not too far from a crushed pen in the student car park. The campus looks as though it was left in haste.
The brilliant sunshine seems mismatched with the motionlessness of the campus and the spiderwebs that have crept up in various crevices outside old classrooms. Through one dark window, behind a partly-pulled red curtain, I can just see what looks to be an old office, upon which old papers and a telephone sit discarded.
Some of the construction workers eye my warily, and when one calls out to ask if I’m okay, I simply reply that I’m just having a look around.
Without students and staff, the buildings and the campus at large provoke a curious feeling, not quite of pointlessness, but of restlessness. The entire place exists outside time, and acts as a kind of time travel to the past within the present. A simple walk through the leafy streets contrasts with the promotional material that still exists in the archives of the internet, making such phrases as ‘Ten good reasons to study at Kuring-gai’ seemingly redundant.
Eventually I head back out of the campus, which, as of August 2016, is still open for urban and suburban explorers and Kuring-gai alumni feeling the pinch of nostalgia. One can only speculate that its new inhabitants will form equally compelling and fond memories. Until then, the deserted campus looks almost post-apocalyptic, caught between the strands of the past and the future.