By Tina Perinotto
18 December 2010 –
Pritzker Prize winning architect Frank Gehry was in Sydney this week to officially introduce his contribution to Sydney’s skyline with a new business school at the University of Technology Sydney.

Sustainable elements he said would include “all the usual ones that everybody has on their list” but there would also be co-generation for energy efficiency and the use of paperless design to enable a strong focus the elimination of waste that typically added up to 30 per cent of a project’s total resources.

Accompanying Mr Gehry was a long series of scale models that tracked the various iterations of the new building’s design concept. An early version was represented by obliquely stacked blocks of coloured wood, whose significance Mr Gehry could no longer recall, one that appeared to be made of crumpled white hessian, with mirrors to symbolise large windows, and large models complete with furniture and occupants.

Dubbed the “treehouse” by Mr Gehry for its design inspiration, the new building will be modest by comparison with his mega projects such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, but it bears nevertheless all the hallmarks of the Gehry oeuvre in unconventional facades.

But what was the drive to make his buildings seem so different to their peers? At a UTS media launch of the design on Thursday, Mr Gehry, flanked by vice chancellor Ross Milbourne and Federal Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans, said it was his challenge to make modern architecture more “humane”.

“The hardest thing to do with modern architecture is to make it humane and give it a character and a feeling,” Mr Gehry said. In this case he described the crumpled or “crinkly” look of parts of the façade as resembling the folds of fabric.

“Historically great artists have been fascinated with the fold of fabric.. Michelangelo, Leonardo,” he said.

Generously Mr Gehry tried to explain his inspiration and the next day during a public forum at UTS even the creative processes at play in how he comes up with among the most distinctive building designs in the world.

Fundamentally, he said, it starts with a response to the brief. The client in this case wanted something that would break down the silos typical in a university and stimulate high levels of interaction, creativity and play.

“I met with the dean and his faculty and the brief was that the business school needed to open up to the creative processes a bit more and open themselves up to creative thinking.”

It was an idea important for “all walks of life,” Mr Gehry said, “You sense the need for creative play is human and we need it and we yearn for it.”

His own creativity depends absolutely on the ability for “child like play” he said.

His early response to the brief was a “treehouse” design analogy – various platforms at different levels, connected by branches and open spaces in between. This explains its “fractured” appearance, the stacked blocks and plentiful see through spaces.

At ground level, the idea of openness would extend to the public at the ground floor level, although perhaps unfortunately, the building would not have a strong street presence. In fact it will be tucked in behind other campus structures with a frontage not to busy Broadway but to the less high profile Ultimo Road and Omnibus Lane.

Again the design responds to the location and viewing potential; it would not be viewed as a whole, said Mr Gehry but “glimpsed in vignettes… through the cracks and the crevices.”

Sustainability
On sustainability Mr Gehry said the building’s main features would include, “all the usual ones that everybody has on their list” and “simple things like taking the hot air out [through or near the roof] because it rises,” and co-generation for more efficient and greenhouse friendly energy.

It was also a matter of taking advantage of current technology, “where materials are increasingly created with less carbon footprint – working with concrete that has 50 per cent less carbon footprint and sets faster.”

The other big advance in sustainability is the potential for waste reduction, especially “human waste” that was acknowledged in the industry to reach up to 30 per cent, Mr Gehry said.

It also led to very cost effective buildings.

“We worked with a very fancy computer software designed for the French aerospace industry which our guys have modified for the construction industry and allows a great precision in the documentation so that constructability is precise. So there is not misunderstanding between us and the constructors.”

The system allowed greater sense of security for the builders and also for huge savings from the huge reduction in waste, since so much of the process is precisely calculated.

“A lot of people think our buildings are expensive but it’s not true. We do very precise work and are very careful to budget control.”

In fact Mr Gehry said his creative process relished tight budgets; without them it would be hard to outcomes he has managed.

“It’s amazing how flexible you get if you have a tight budget. You get the ability to do things that people say normally are impossible.

“We spend a lot of time on the human waste things and it’s not
well understood,” Mr Gehry told The Fifth Estate after his presentation. This included the delivery of materials, he said.

At Ground Zero in New York where four new towers were being constructed at once, the Gehry team was working on understanding traffic patterns in order to schedule delivery of materials efficiently.

“The delivery of personnel and materials could create gridlock in New York City and so our team has been analysing traffic patterns for the city and delivery strategies.”

His team was even studying weather patters to schedule delivery of materials such as dry walls that would be ruined by rain.

The Gehry office used a sophisticated paperless design system based on the latest version of the CATIA or  Computer Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application software, originally developed by the aerospace industries and modified for building design.

The building’s official name will be the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, after a $25 million donation from Dr Chau helped defray the total $150 million cost of the building.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au

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