Frank Gehry ‘paper bag’ building at University of Technology set to seduce students

The striking Frank Gehry-designed Dr Chau Chak Wing building is open for business. Photo: Nic Walker Inside: Frank Gehry-designed Dr Chau Chak Wing building. Photo: Nic Walker
Nanjing Night Net

The brutalist brown tower that stains the skyline above UTS has long been regarded as harbouring Sydney’s best views, if only because the offending building itself is not visible.

Now the university has added its own flourish to that vista, putting the finishing touches on its Frank Gehry-designed Dr Chau Chak Wing building ahead of an official opening in February.

The interior, unveiled for the first time on Tuesday, reflects the latest thinking about how students learn, with smaller classrooms and more open-plan spaces. But for most Sydneysiders it is the building’s striking exterior – said to resemble a crumpled paper bag – that will inspire a study tour.

Five types of brick sourced from Bowral were custom-made for the project, containing a continuous groove rather than a typical indent. Stainless steel bars were inserted through the groove, bolting the 320,000 bricks to steel frames that form the graceful, undulating facade.

The atypical design made construction a slow, painstaking task, with brickies laying perhaps 100 bricks a day rather than their usual 500. But after starting work in November 2012 the building was completed on time and on budget at $180 million, the university said.

Gehry, the lauded Canadian-American architect behind Spain’s Guggenheim Museum, wanted the building to emphasise the need to “create artistry” in business education, according to UTS business school dean Roy Green.

“This was a building that has been designed from the inside out,” Professor Green said. “It starts not from the flamboyance of the architecture…but from the functionality of the spaces.”

UTS hopes the interior will be so attractive that students won’t want to leave. The days of giant lecture theatres are gone, says deputy vice-chancellor Shirley Alexander, thanks to the advent of online learning. The Gehry building’s auditorium seats just 240. Instead, there are smaller classrooms and more work spaces, lounges and kitchens where students can meet and (hopefully) study.

“Anything that can be taught online should be,” Professor Alexander said. The more intimate spaces were better configured for interacting with teachers, collaborating with peers and ‘high-touch’ learning,” she said.

“Almost every time I see a research paper where they’re attributing learning gains to a particular technology, when you look closer it’s the small group learning experience that has made the difference.”

The Gehry building forms part of a renewed urban precinct around Chinatown which includes the Goods Line, a pedestrian thoroughfare similar to Manhattan’s High Line, and a new residential district at the south end of Darling Harbour.

As for the university’s much-maligned Broadway high-rise, deputy vice-chancellor Patrick Woods said it would continue to be treasured “for the time being”.

“There are those who think it is absolutely wonderful,” he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.