Design for Gehry’s first Australian building unveiled

Dec 16, 2010
  • Article by Online Editor

The long-awaited Frank Gehry design for the University of Technology Sydney’s new Business School has been unveiled.

Gehry’s design for the brand new, $150 million Dr Chau Chak Wing building was described by the architect as a “cluster of tree-houses”, featuring a “trunk and core of activity and branches for people to connect and do their private work”.

The building, which will be built at the corner of Ultimo Road and Omnibus Lane on the site of the former Dairy Farmers building, will feature two distinctive facades in a trademark Gehry design. The east façade “curves and folds like soft fabric,” and will be constructed using buff-coloured bricks to match the colour of Sydney Sandstone. The texture of the brick surface will “emphasise the mass of the material,” according to Gehry’s design statement. The second distinctive façade, facing west, will feature large shards of glass designed reflect the surrounding buildings.

The 11-storey, 16,030 square-metre building will accommodate teaching and learning spaces, a 240-seat auditorium, research and academic areas and a large function space with views of the harbour. Gehry’s concept for the “tree houses” is based on vertical stacks of working areas that can view into neighbouring stacks, allowing for focused study areas as well as encouraging cross-disciplinary exchange.

UTS Vice Chancellor Ross Milbourne said the building would undoubtedly become an architectural landmark for Sydney, but that the University was concentrating on ensuring the design meets the needs of the Business School and the University.

“This is a building for all of Sydney. There will be extensive public spaces with an external design that complements and acknowledges its place within the immediate area and within the city.”

Professor Milbourne added that four UTS architecture students have been selected for internships at Gehry Partners’ LA studio.

The University received a substantial funding gift of $25 million from Australian-Chinese business leader Dr Chau Chak Wing earlier this year, $20 million of which will be pumped into the Gehry project. The University has named the new faculty building after Dr Chau Chak Wing in recognition of the philanthropic gift.

Professor Milbourne stressed the design remained subject to modification, pending approval and community consultation. Community and stakeholder consultation will run from 17 December until 14 January. Construction is due to begin in early 2012, with the building finished in time for the start of the 2014 academic year.

*Images* courtesy Gehry Partners

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16 Dec 10 at 3:20 AM • fred and ginger

dear god what happened

16 Dec 10 at 3:22 AM • University of Technology Sydney

Gehry by numbers

16 Dec 10 at 3:34 AM • Nibbly Pig

Walt Disney building looks slick, Treehouse looks????

16 Dec 10 at 3:56 AM • Yet To Be Convinced

My first thoughts are of disappointment. It could be amazing, it could be a mess- but it would be amazing in nothing more than the complexity (or fussiness) of the facade.
There’s certainly nothing surprising about the building- it looks like a Gehry. I guess that was the point. Sydney seems to enjoy collecting famous architects.
It will undoubtedly become a landmark, but that was always going to happen regardless.
The section evokes a Westfield wrapped in crinkled Bloomindales big brown bag.

16 Dec 10 at 3:58 AM • Tree-house?

This would be the world’s first tree-house built of sandstone.

16 Dec 10 at 5:09 AM • Disappointment

Sydney does not need one of his buildings!

It is time for Gehry to retire and let someone else have a go.

16 Dec 10 at 5:13 AM • the yank will tank

cultural cringe. give the job to john wardle check melbourne grammar – modern classic

16 Dec 10 at 5:14 AM • Sarah in Melbourne

I agree with ‘tree-house’. One of the first lessons my first year students receive is in the difference in character between massive materials, planar materials and linear materials. Brick and sandstone definitely come under the ‘massive’ category. Timber could come under the planar or linear categories, but not massive!

If your whole building rests fundamentally on a concept of tree house like this does, surely you’ve got to be a bit more rigorous with your materials.

And as for western glazing as a feature to ‘reflect’ surrounding buildings…potential problems of Australian sun and glare come to mind.

I’m not convinced either.

16 Dec 10 at 5:15 AM • WTF

Gehry did you push the melt button on your CAD program?

16 Dec 10 at 5:18 AM • What the...

Is he having a laugh?!

16 Dec 10 at 5:21 AM • Smiley Face

In a world gone mad, anything is possible!

16 Dec 10 at 5:26 AM • Adrian

Sigh. I used to like Gehry. Bricks don’t melt, even in a kiln, so why use them as though they do? Proportions are up the spout, he’s recycling his own style and the whole composition is barely an improvement on a second rate medieval duke’s castle.

16 Dec 10 at 5:30 AM • jimmy

it just makes me sad that people are happy to spend money on this…

16 Dec 10 at 5:41 AM • Wayne

Not good. Generic and probably inefficient. I think expressionist buildings can be timeless, but I have my doubts how successful this might be in 10 years. Could be the crumbling star we needed to have to see value in our local talent?

16 Dec 10 at 5:43 AM • oldtimer

I believe in architrecture being fun to practice and to live in, but where is the logic, the rationale, the ‘reason for being”, the understanding of materials.
This building lacks the spatial exhuberance of a Disney Concert Centre.
Finally does the planning work? Remember form & function, or is that sooo last century?

16 Dec 10 at 5:50 AM • James Stockwell

grinding the final smooth shape? recessed mortar joints?, tuck point?

16 Dec 10 at 5:56 AM • Enter architecture


16 Dec 10 at 6:09 AM • T Mark

What a PIG! Something retrieved from the waste paper basket. All wrong, cumbersome, heavy, contrived. Where is Peter Cook, Zaha Hadid, Rem koolhaus, Steven Holl, Stormin’ Norman or, god forbid an Australian even!

16 Dec 10 at 6:24 AM • Adrian Bonomi

PS. If Sydney has to import architectural talent in order to come up with a result like this, what does that say about Sydney? I’m struggling to think of a similar situation occurring in my home town Melbourne, AND I HATE THE OLD CITY RIVALRY CRAP! The last truly great import I can recall, is the white pointy thing past the Bennelong isthmus, with the curvy white glass tower a distant second. Sigh again.

16 Dec 10 at 6:25 AM • salveveritas

The master got really sick and they froze it before dispatching it to Cringeland

16 Dec 10 at 6:26 AM • Why not? Whatever.

Proportions are a little dowdy, and it looks a little like a melted caramel overcoat resting on a collection of bar fridges, but quite apart from that, why doesn’t everyone relax? Why shouldn’t Mr. Gehry have a go at Ultimo? What did people expect? Why did they expect it? He was always going to be skewered by the locals: the comments here bear that out. The man isn’t a genius, but he is a maker. I say let him have a go.

16 Dec 10 at 6:49 AM • Julian C

Great SOH…….a lasting metaphor for the GFC.

16 Dec 10 at 7:03 AM • Andrew

When Frank came to Sydney to look at the site he got terrible food posioning. This building is his retribution on the people and students in Sydney.

16 Dec 10 at 7:05 AM • CultureVulture

It’s not the point. Regardless of the architecture, it is a ‘look at me’ cultural object, a poor man’s Lady Gaga. They’ll shift a lot of postcards.

16 Dec 10 at 7:40 AM • MD

Shame!! Trying too hard.

16 Dec 10 at 8:00 AM • cringeworthy

so we get brown paper bags model from gehry. awesome.. not.

16 Dec 10 at 11:47 AM • the little boy who pointed

emperors new clothes!
who will tell the vice chancellor he is starkers?

16 Dec 10 at 11:59 AM • top quality

why all the whinging?
it comes with the GEHRY GUARANTEE……

to leak, Architecture of the Absurd.etc etc how this guy gets work is beyond comprehension, must be on a retainer from “no more gaps”

16 Dec 10 at 7:09 PM • Rick and Frannie

I think it is brilliant. It is worrying for design in Australia when so many from within the design community are so conservative and so quick to criticise.

16 Dec 10 at 9:01 PM • Arthur Venefield

What is with UTS? First they commission an established Melbourne firm to design the Broadway building, then they get a foreign architect to design another. They’re a design university for pity’s sake! Why didint they commission a YOUNG SYDNEY FIRM/Architect?? This short-sightedness is beyond comprehension to me!

16 Dec 10 at 11:00 PM • Why so angry?

It’s just a tiny building in a tucked away corner of the city.
Why all the venom? Jealous much?
Perhaps you all should redirect your malice towards Brangaroo, that’s where the real crime is being committed.

17 Dec 10 at 12:55 AM • penultimo

I’m just thrilled to be reading an architectural argument about ANY building in Ultimo. Horray for Ultimo …nice to see the suburb get a little attention.

Admittedly – I’m more excited about the plans for the Ultimo Pedestrian Network adjacent to the Dr Chau Chak Wing, than about the business school itself….

17 Dec 10 at 1:08 AM • CDH

Spookily it looks exaclty like my 2.5 year old’s effort on a gingerbread house under construction …was Gehry similarly “assisted” on th F9 key or did the model get accidentally dropped in hyperspace?

17 Dec 10 at 1:17 PM • Peter vdV

The comments run like a transcript of when the Opera House was proposed.

17 Dec 10 at 11:03 PM • Adrian

Peter, perhaps you’re right about the criticisms of the original Opera House design, but the architectural world is far more open to new ideas, theories and criticism than in the 1950’s. I don’t think it’s a case of jealousy or venom but rather sheer disappointment that an architect of Gehry’s calibre can produce something which at first sighting, appears to fall way short of expectations. It’s as though he’s trying to destroy thousands of years of scholarship in proportion, whilst inadvertently paying homage to punch panel windows in precast concrete industrial office design, all in the name of some gravitational accident of massing.

19 Dec 10 at 1:13 AM • Simon

What a conservative lot you all are! If you can do better, then let’s see it!

19 Dec 10 at 1:30 AM • Simon

When I viewed the models at the Gehry lecture this Friday at UTS I was delighted. One side of the design looks as though it is collapsing in on itself and unsettles the observer, while the other side with its flat angular shiny surfaces explodes outwards. The building is full of movement and will make a spectacular centrepiece for the new campus, and a fitting setting for business school that sees itself as innovative. The fact it is made of brick makes the apparent movement in its design all the more impressive. It is an example of Gehry’s daring, and I am glad he follows his own muse.

19 Dec 10 at 4:47 AM • They huffed and they puffed...

1. I am trying to work out if it is the design that is the problem for everyone or the fact that the designer is not Australian that is the problem. If an Australian came up with this very same design, would it be an instant hit?

2. Why is it that the very very mundane buildings of the proposed student accommodation and the addition surrounding the tower are ducking criticism. If anything should be criticised it should be that such boring buildings are still being built. The glass awning proposed for the street front surrounding the tower already seems dated before it has been built and reminds me of the awnings on suburban shopping centres. Playing it very safe indeed. Yawn.

19 Dec 10 at 12:03 PM • A student of optimism

Finally something for Sydney to get all up in arms about. In the end the specifics of Gehry’s syntax are irrelevant, really what’s at stake here is an object around which we as architects can establish a meaningful space of discourse. While I agree this building is certainly nothing new for Gehry it IS something new for Sydney, a city currently treading water in a sea of ‘modernist’ mediocrity.

Perhaps it’s true that Sydney currently fails to support its own architectural culture and that this proposal represents a missed opportunity. Or perhaps Sydney is just so deeply risk averse that it needs an established starchitect to start the conversation.

20 Dec 10 at 2:48 AM • Berkshire Review

Clearly a lot of people had their knives sharpened in readiness for this one.

Certainly the talented young architects of Sydney deserve to have a go at public commissions, but to direct this frustration at Gehry seems more than a little uncharitable. Personally I am very impressed with the Gehry buildings I’ve visited in the flesh and from what I can see this one will be great as well. Even if you don’t like his architecture, Gehry’s design clearly enlivens a dull part of town and is therefore successful from an urban design perspective. What exactly is there to get upset about, the loss of a beautiful surface carpark?

My longer spiel resides here:

20 Dec 10 at 10:31 PM • megan brown

He has got to be kidding. It is all very well to come up with this on a computer.
Get an Australian architect like Rob Brown to design it.

21 Dec 10 at 12:19 AM • CultureVulture

Actually, now I’ve had a day or three to get over it, I’ll reserve my judgement. I hated Federation Square in Melbourne when the renders were revealed, and I hated it when it was behind the hoardings, but I loved it once I got to use it and once I got used to it. This may well be the same.
At least we’re all talking about it!

21 Dec 10 at 1:17 PM • Peter vdV

Adrian said “the Architectural world is far more open to new ideas, theories and criticisms than the 1950’s”.
The reactions here indicate otherwise. Since the ’50’s, a new language has been systematically appropriated but the old thinking has remained unchanged and among the reactions here, the dominant thinking is habitually in words and not in design.
The rule for design criticism should parallel Simon’s: any criticism has to be a substantial design alternative. Rhetoric is for arguing politics and law. Design needs to be logically argued with design; visuals, not words. We’re designers. Any criticism should only be in the form of ideas and solutions submitted here or presented on a blog with a link. Images are the language and reality of our profession and today’s world – yet it seems no one above is consciously living and thinking insightfully in this present.
If Australia makes a habit of arguing design with (hopefully) better design, it will stimulate the nation into finally moving forward from its past “Australian Ugliness”.

Unsubstantiated remarks among peers weakens the profession into being vulnerable to external intervention. Learn from past examples: We don’t want a former Prime Minister to take unchallenged control again – to dumb down the building and put a Doric colonnade along the streetscape to match the blight he left on Circular Quay do we?

The design’s function appears very sound. If there is no interference with this project, this building, despite objections to the appearance of its model, will invariably become one of Sydney’s endeared. CultureVulture above has very accurately described how this will come about.

21 Dec 10 at 11:40 PM • Berkshire Review

Though I’m not willing to give up completely on words, Peter vdV makes a very important point about the way they can be appropriated and manipulated. While a tossed off quip like ‘it looks like a brown paper bag’ may seem harmless, that kind of superficiality contributes to a degrading of architectural discourse which at its worst allows a project like Barangaroo to be pushed through using the tactics of an ad agency rather than an architectural office.

It is interesting that Gehry does not do this. By presenting his design for the business school using a combination of (many) handmade physical models and two dimensional drawings, rather than easily manipulated digital renderings, he has given us the opportunity to respond in an informed way. Unlike some architects, he isn’t hiding anything. The precision with which Gehry is able to describe his complex forms may well be his greatest contribution to architecture.

22 Dec 10 at 12:47 AM • gk

yet to be convinced said it with “The section evokes a Westfield wrapped in crinkled Bloomindales big brown bag.” At the end of the day its creating a debate and drawing attention to sydney, which is great for sydney and australia

22 Dec 10 at 3:58 AM • Go Go Gadget Gehry

Landmark, brave, unique, too good for sydney, ……in your face ‘squares’.

22 Dec 10 at 9:28 AM • DOD

So much pointless vitriol. One of the greats comes to town and the peasants mock! Losers

23 Dec 10 at 2:08 AM Peter van der Veer

This is a copy of my post to Dezeen Magazine:

The comments read like a transcript following the proposal for the Opera House. Once the project was under way, Joern Utzon had to endure incessant malicious harassment throughout his efforts to build Sydney a masterpiece. it was one of the ugliest episodes in recent history. It was also the time when Robin Boyd published “The Australian Ugliness”. That term has always needed to be understood in its broadest sense. Utzon was expelled by it then the crime was justified after the act. I hope Australia does not repeat its atrocities of its past.

I need to add that most of the comments here are ones I will not accept from juveniles. No wonder the authors remain anonymous.
Two days a week I teach Primary Students the infinitely connected worlds of Art & Design with everything else. When they utter conditioned reflex remarks, even positive ones to what they see, they are made to articulate: to make sense to themselves as well as everyone else. Even the psychologically impaired in the poorest suburbs can do it, develop their insight and make abstract connections about perception.
It’s a national shame when “mature qualified professionals” cannot do the same and consequently show themselves to be less psychologically capable than remedial juveniles.

17 Jan 11 at 10:12 PM • Decor Girl

Well, we have one of his fabulous buildings in Cleveland. But be warned they leak. Also depending on the siding material – if it is sandstone it could look really awful after the weather and airborne particles stain or mark it. Sometimes what looks good on paper… or in cardboard…

19 Jan 11 at 11:16 PM • So Mc Gehry

Many cities around the world are resisting this franchised approach to iconic architecture with plans for Guggenheim scrapped in Rio and Alsop’s ‘Cloud’ given the boot in Liverpool. So you have to ask yourself whether this is original modern architecture that contributes to the sense of place, while respecting the heritage of the area, or yet another me-too Mc Gehry?


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