31 October 2013 – On crazy buildings that defy gravity, BIM, LAB Architecture, NABERS and a webinar

Sydney will soon have one of the most exciting buildings to grace Australia’s shores since the Opera House, the Frank Gehry designed Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at the University of Technology Sydney.

This is not an overstatement.

At a Property Council lunch presentation on Friday some of the lead consultants on this amazing and gravity-defying piece of sculptural architecture will unveil some of the thinking that led to its creation and how the vision is being realised. Which will astound as much as the design, described when Gehry unveiled it to the world in December 2010, as a “crushed paper bag”.

Speaking will be UTS deputy vice-chancellor Patrick Woods, Peter Hartigan, principal Australasian facades leader, Arup, and Tony Costantino, executive director, Lend Lease.

We can’t give away too much of the juicy detail that will emerge, (The Fifth Estate will moderate the discussion) but to share some is simply irresistible. Try five different types of hand made bricks, assembled as the original design promised, at all sorts of crazy angles. There is the story of the master bricklayer, 75 years of age, who came out of retirement to undertake this legacy project. There are the windows, each facing different angles (how do you clean them?). And a “treehouse” configuration for the interior design.

And then there is the cost  – huge – but a payback in terms of brand value worth millions, the UTS maintains. And yes it will be 5 Star Green Star. Sustainable, despite some of the publicity that shows Gehry being dismissive of this. According to Woods, Gehry is “on board” with the sustainability. Nice to know.

From the outside this was design with a difference. Woods was phlegmatic during the briefing but it must have taken nerves of steel. What would such a building cost? Gehry wouldn’t say. The firm doesn’t “do” budgets. How would it look? At the outset, at least, Gehry had “no idea”.

How it would be built is the business of a bunch of consultants that actually go chasing such difficult work: Arup, Lend Lease, AECOM, and many more, no doubt.

About the only thing that was certain is that a bespoke Gehry designed software system would be used to build the building. It’s a BIM (Building Information Management) system, but a very particular BIM. One that can make things waterproof and stand up, even at crazy angles, clearly.

BIM and London calling

Speaking of BIM, exciting news for The Fifth Estate this week is that staffer Cameron Jewell is in London covering a fairly major BIM conference , courtesy of Bentley Systems which is running the event.

See Cameron’s lead story here, which includes a call for Australia to lift its game on using BIM, which is capable of significant sustainability gains through savings on waste, time, money…the list goes on.

In the UK David Philp, head of BIM for international construction and consultancy firm Mace, said that Level 2 BIM would be mandatory on all public sector contracts by 2016.

The government was seeing around £90 billion ($A151 million) a year in savings through the use of BIM and associated efficiency gains and waste reduction, Philp says. For individual projects there was a proven 20 per cent reduction in capital expenditure.

But the Aussies are getting into BIM.

The winner of the widely contested Inspired Awards, Innovation in Generative Design category at the conference was Melbourne based LAB Architecture Studio, which designed another astounding building, Federation Square.

Now the team at LAB has proved its mettle on the world stage against 67 finalists from 22 countries.

And its winning project? The Wujin Council Towers project in China, rated highly sustainable with two out of three star rating in China’s Green Building Evaluation Standard, which is actually quite a high rating, LAB’s Tim Fowler told the conference.

A webinar coming up

Also in exciting news that we will soon be introducing The Fifth Estate’s first webinar thanks to a collaboration between AGL, Energetics and Envizi in a three part series. The focus will be on how to buy energy efficiently, how to save it and how to generate you own. Sustainably.

The first webinar is on 20 November.

NABERS reports

It’s good to see the first NABERS annual report come out with such strong numbers: a full three quarters of Australia’s commercial office buildings are now rated, it says. That’s a huge savings on carbon emissions, not to mention the value uplift for owners and tenants from such savings.