Frank Gehry, the Canadian-born American architect who’s given the world some its most striking modern buildings, including the titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the EMP Museum in Seattle and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles has given Sydney its most striking building since Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House.
The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building in Ultimo is the new home of the University of Technology Sydney’s business school. Named in honour of the billionaire Australian-Chinese businessman and philanthropist who donated $20 million towards the $180 million cost. Dr Chau also gave UTS $5 million towards scholarships for Australian and Chinese students to study here and in China. It’s part of the University’s $1.2 billion City Campus Master Plan, which includes the equally striking Broadway IT building, lit with green strips, which opened last year.
Gehry, 85, in Sydney this week for the official opening of his first Australian building, said he was inspired by the idea of a tree house, describing the structure as “a growing learning organism with many branches of thought, some robust and some ephemeral and delicate”.
The architect came to see the Ultimo site, opposite the ABC HQ, in 2009, and sketched the initial design, with its central trunk and multiple branches of learning.
He also looks to the Renaissance for ideas, especially the way the intricate use of folds in clothing brought the subjects to life.
“The fold is primitive, you’re in your mother’s arms when you’re a child, and so we tried to do that with brick,” he said.
The undulating brick façade responds to Sydney’s sandstone heritage, while the large glass panels on the westward facing side reference the building’s city surrounds.
Inside, the main classrooms are oval shaped so students face each other. There are breakout spaces with lounges to hang out and discuss ideas and the crumpled exterior is repeated inside the building too.
When asked if he was happy with the end result, Gehry responded “Oh boy. I’m Jewish and I feel guilty about everything.”
Dr Chau Chak Wing, a media-shy property billionaire with impeccable political connections, is a huge Gehry fan and said the design was “full of passion”.
“There is nothing like it in Australia. He is an unparalleled architect,” he said.
UTS Chancellor Professor Vicki Sara described the building as “a masterpiece of design and engineering. It is indeed a work of art.”
Teaching will begin in the new UTS Business School on 23 February.
There are public tours of the building this weekend, February 7-8 between 9am and 4pm. Registration for the tours opens today February, 2 on the UTS website.
Now take a look at the end result.
Its distant cousin is UTS Tower (behind, left), a 27-storey, 1964 modernist edifice designed by the NSW Government Architects Office, that's often criticised as Sydney's ugliest building.
A special brick-fixing system had to be created for the project, which took five time longer than traditional brick laying as a result.
The project came in on time and budget. Gehry has a reputation for cost blowouts and promised he'd pay any overrun above 10%.
The technique with the bricks, used to create the organic shape, is called corbelling (stepping) individual bricks.
Two oval classrooms feature laminated timber beams, each weighing up to 2 tonnes and up to 12 metres long, made from NZ radiata pine.
The high-tech, two-tiered oval classrooms seat 54, and are designed with 360° engagement in mind to create interaction and dialogue.
The polished stainless steel staircase in the main lobby was manufactured by Queensland-based Urban Art Projects.
Gehry sees the building as 'a growing learning organism with many branches of thought, some robust and some ephemeral and delicate'.
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