Highlights of Frank Gehry's Architecture in Australia

The University of Technology in Sydney (UTS), Australia has an academic building designed by a Pritzker Laureate and paid for by a Chinese businessman. A good example of architecture's three-legged stool of client, architect, and investor.

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University of Technology Sydney (UTS), 2015, Dr Chau Chak Wing Building

Frank Gehry-Designed Business School, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), 2015
Photo by Andrew Worrsam, courtesy UTS Newsroom Online
  • Location: University of Technology Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Completed: 2015 (construction ended in late 2014)
  • Design Architect: Frank Gehry
  • Architectural Height: 136 feet
  • Floors: 11 (12 above-ground stories)
  • Usable Interior Area: 15,500 square meters
  • Construction Materials: brick and glass exterior; wood and stainless steel interiors
  • Design Idea: The Tree House

About the Investor

The Business School building is named for philanthropist and political donor Dr. Chau Chak Wing, an investor with dual citizenship (China and Australia). Dr. Chau, whose business is headquartered in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong province, is no stranger to real estate investments. His Kingold Group Companies Ltd. has a real estate division, with major successes like the multi-use, planned community of Favorview Palace Estate. Described as "Incorporating the Best of Eastern and Western, with both Modern and Ancient Elements," the community exemplifies what the company website calls "New Asian Architecture." Investing in a business school and establishing scholarships is a strategic move for Dr. Chau and his company.

About the Architect

The Chau Chak Wing Building is the first structure in Australia for Pritzker Laureate Frank Gehry. The octogenarian architect may have been most interested in this project because the University of Technology Sydney, established in 1988, is youthful, spirited, and growing; the building is part of the UTS billion dollar master plan. For the architect, the design falls within a gallery of building projects by Frank Gehry, many decades in the making.

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Gehry's West Facing UTS Business Building

Glass facade on west side of Frank Gehry-designed business school in Sydney, Australia
Photo by Andrew Worrsam, courtesy UTS Newsroom Media Kit

Frank Gehry designed two façades for the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Business School. The exterior east face is undulating brickwork, while the west, facing the city of Sydney, is reflective shards of glass. The effect is sure to appeal to everyone, the solid stability of local masonry juxtaposed with the transparent openness of glass.

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A Closer Look at the Gehry East Face Curve

Close View, Frank Gehry-Designed Business School, University of Technology Sydney (UTS)
Photo by Andrew Worrsam, courtesy UTS Newsroom Online

The UTS Business School Building has lovingly been called "the most beautiful squashed brown paper bag I've ever seen." How does the architect get that effect?

Architect Frank Gehry created a soft fluidity with the hardness of brick for the east façade, a marked contrast with the glass west façade. Sourced locally, sandstone colored bricks of different shapes were positioned by hand according to computerized specifications from Gehry and Partners. Custom-made windows seem to be dropped in a place like soft paper Post-it® notes on the hard surface, but it's all in the plan.

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Gehry's Inside/Outside Modeling at UT Sidney

Curved wooden stairs, offset block wood walls, inset square windows, Gehry, UTS, Sydney
Photo by Andrew Worrsam, courtesy UTS Newsroom Media Kit

The exterior brick curves of Frank Gehry's design at UTS are matched inside with natural wood twists and bends. Victorian Ash surrounds an oval classroom, while an open staircase bends around it. The interior woodblock placement is reminiscent not only of the exterior brick façade of this building but also of other Gehry projects, such as the 2008 Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

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Inside a Gehry Classroom at University of Technology Sydney

Gehry designed classroom, wood, circular, modern lighting, outside windows, UTS in Sydney
Photo by Andrew Worrsam, courtesy UTS Newsroom Media Kit

From the winding, wooden stairway, architect Frank Gehry takes us further inside Sydney's University of Technology Business School. The oval design of this classroom creates a natural and intimate organic space for communication and cross-learning. The laminated pine beams from nearby New Zealand are not only sculptural and artistic to sit within but extend the treehouse theme. The outside comes in, creating a natural environment. The student will learn and then take knowledge back to the outside world, like one organism.

The Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building has two oval classrooms of this kind, each seating 54 people on two levels.

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Gehry's Design Idea: The Tree House

Frank Gehry-Designed Business School, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), 2015
Photo by Andrew Worrsam, courtesy UTS Newsroom Online

When the University of Technology in Sydney approached architect Frank Gehry with their philosophies behind a new business school building, Gehry is said to have had his own metaphorical ideas for the design. “Thinking of it as a treehouse came tripping out of my head," said Gehry. "A growing, learning organism with many branches of thought, some robust and some ephemeral and delicate."

The end result was that Gehry's first Australian building became a vehicle for communication, collaboration, learning, and artful design. Interior spaces include both intimate and communal areas, connected with open stairways. Exterior surfaces are brought inside with similar visual textures of complementing materials found outside.

"The most impressive part of this building is its extraordinary shape and structure," said Dr. Chau Chak Wing, who dontated $20 million to realize the project. "Frank Gehry uses space, raw materials, structure and context to challenge our thinking. The design of polygonal planes, sloping structures and inverted forms make a huge impact. It is an unforgettable building."

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Who Thinks Frank Gehry can't be Traditional?

Small theatre, blue seats, Gehry-Designed 2015 Business School, Univ Technology Sydney
Photo by Andrew Worrsam, courtesy UTS Newsroom Online

Never mind the corbelled brickwork on Frank Gehry's academic building for the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), his first project in Australia. The main auditorium of UTS is very familiar, with no surprises and all the technology needed for modern presentations. The blue seat covers contrasting with the light-colored walls are as familiar as the student common areas.

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The Student Common Areas

Inside Frank Gehry-Designed Business School, University of Technology Sydney, 2015
Photo by Andrew Worrsam, courtesy UTS Newsroom Online

Architect Frank Gehry maintained the curvaceous themes throughout the Business School at UTS, creating intimate spaces that function well by the way they are designed. No need to think of where to sit in these simply colored rooms, two student common areas with built-in benches surrounded by curved glass. All space is used, with storage underneath the blue-cushioned seats, a color scheme Gehry also uses in larger, more traditional spaces, like the auditorium.

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The Main Lobby of this Building is Pure Gehryland

Inside steps of Frank Gehry designed Business School in Sydney, Australia
Photo by Andrew Worrsam, courtesy UTS Newsroom Online

Frank Gehry's Dr Chau Chak Wing Business Building at the University of Technology Sydney gives Australians a chance to move around on the open stairways connecting 11 levels. Much like the contrasting east façade and west façade, the interior stairways are strikingly different.

The twirling stairway to the classrooms is wood; the main entryway shown here is stainless steel and pure Gehry. The metal stairs were made in China by an Australian-based Urban Art Project, shipped in parts and pieces, and then re-assembled in Sydney.

Reminiscent of the architect's Disney Concert Hall exterior, the sculpture-like main lobby is reflective, inviting movement and energy to enter the building. With this space, Gehry has achieved the desired atmosphere, creating an area that welcomes growth, as academic architecture is meant to do.

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