The UTS “Crinkly Treehouse” by Frank Gehry

The UTS “Crinkly Treehouse” by Frank Gehry

The acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, who creates buildings that ”look like a party of drunken robots got together to celebrate”, has unleashed his vision for UTS Sydney.

Pritzker Prize winning American architect Frank Gehry visited Sydney in December 2010 and unveiled the design of his first building in Australia, the $150 million UTS Dr Chau Chak Wing building, featuring a tree-house design.

The structure had been designed like a “tree house”, generating a sense of “creative play” – featuring branches of research and academic spaces. According to Gehry, the school structure has a trunk and core of activity and branches for people to connect and do their private work. “Working groups would feel an intimacy with others working in their own tree house while looking across the cracks to other tree houses”.

The new “Dr Chau Chak Wing Building”  will enable the UTS Business School to establish itself as one of the world’s leading business schools. The University’s current Business School in the Haymarket Building, can no longer accommodate the projected increase in the number of students, or changing trends in university education. The new Business School building is expected to cater to about 2000 students and 500 staff, Inside, the building will contain classrooms, research space, a 240-seat auditorium, a café, and car and bike parking. The building will provide 16,030 sqm of space, spread over 11 floors

The building will have two distinct external facades, one composed of undulating brick, referencing the sandstone and the dignity of Sydney’s urban brick heritage, and the other of large, angled sheets of glass to fracture and mirror the image of surrounding buildings.

“It’s crinkly like that because the hardest thing to do in modern architecture is to make it humane and give it a character, give it a feeling,” he said. “Historically the great artists of our history have always been fascinated with the fold. Michaelangelo did many drawings, Leonardo Da Vinci did many drawings on that topic, and I’ve been fascinated with that topic.”


Gehry said the building was designed to be seen not as a whole, but a piece at a time. “You could build it in glass like a dumb glass office building, but I wanted it to be something that had possibility of integrating within the vignettes of the way it was going to be seen. ….  I think, confidently, once these things are built they are absorbed in a nice way by the community. “A lot of junk is built in cities around the world and nobody really complains … I don’t think it’s going to destroy your town, honest.”

The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building is part of the ten-year $1 billion UTS City Campus masterplan, which is helping transform the southern CBD and will deliver a cutting-edge and connected campus for staff, students and the broader community. The “Dr Chau Chak Wing building” will be located at the corner of Ultimo Road and Omnibus Lane on a site that once housed the Dairy Farmers Cooperative and is currently being used as a car park.

Construction is due to start in early 2012 and is due for completion in time for the 2014 academic year.


UTS Vision

The University of Technology, Sydney has a singular vision – ” to be a world-leading university of technology.”

To achieve this, our leadership in learning and teaching must be coupled with international renown in research, and a world-class infrastructure that supports our vibrant intellectual environment. The achievement of our vision relies on attracting high quality students, academics, researchers and administrators; people who are passionate about knowledge, learning, discovery and creativity.

The Master Plan, and the Gehry designed business school, aims to:

1) Overcome the fragmented nature of the existing campus and create connected, community-oriented learning and public spaces

2) Address the lack of quality open public spaces and create areas for staff, students and the community to enjoy on campus

3) Upgrade learning and research facilities to support UTS’s vision to become a world-leading university of technology

4) Improve campus and building sustainability

5) Accommodate the expected growth in the number of students and staff over the next 10 + years

The Master Plan is integral to UTS achieving its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and a variety of holistic sustainability goals. As one of the new buildings proposed by the Master Plan, UTS and Gehry Partners intend to seek a 5-Star Green Star Educational Building Rating for the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building.

Key sustainability measures currently being investigated include:   • low carbon emissions, achieved through low-energy air conditioning and tri-generation power supply • smart air conditioning, designed to switch off when offices are empty for an extended period of time • monitoring of CO2 levels within the building • intelligent lighting that adjusts according to natural light levels • optimising natural light, including window positions, floor plate design and window glazing • rainwater capture and storage for use in cooling towers and toilet flush applications.

Frank Gehry designed building is a tremendously exciting prospect. But this project’s journey is as thrilling as its destination. This building didn’t start with an architectural concept – it started with the UTS vision to become a world-class business school in a world-leading university of technology. To derive this vision, UTS spent several months in 2009 in a strategic conversation, canvassing everything from how the post-crisis world would re-shape business to what kind of structures and programs would help us build a more ‘integrative’ approach to business education.

Six Australian architectural practices were short listed in a competition to design the new UTS Broadway Building. – Bates Smart, BVN Architecture, Cox Richardson, Denton Corker Marshall, Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp and Lacoste + Stevenson + Daryl Jackson Robin Dyke.

The design brief – developed in conjunction with a research paper by the School of Architecture – asked architects to consider this aim while exploring new building technologies such as smart metering and modular building, while achieving at least a 5-star Greenstar rating.

The winner was to have announced in June, 2010 however Vice-Chancellor Ross Milbourne lost no time in cancelling the design competition and inviting Gehry to Sydney for a private visit to view the site. It was on this visit that, when asked by the vice-chancellor whether he liked the Dairy Farmers site, Gehry replied: ‘I like the problem.’


At 81, Gehry is used to the controversy about his buildings. “I aspire to a building that engages people,” Gehry said.

The wrinkly-skinned brick front of the building resembles the pastry of a pie and is in contrast to the rear view covered in huge panes of glass. The undulating 11-story brick facade is designed to reflect the dignified sandstone of brick historic buildings of Sydney while irregularly angled glass planes refract the new building’s surroundings.

The business school’s glass western facade will “fracture and mirror the image of the surrounding buildings“, while the predominantly brick exterior will reference “the dignity of Sydney’s urban brick heritage”. Like the red terracotta of Renzo Piano’s Macquarie apartments, this referencing of mundane Sydney is a pleasing upside of Gehry’s design, perhaps more likely from a visitor.

‘Each of the larger lower floors is divided into six floor segments. The building façade folds in between these elements bringing natural daylight deep into the center of the floors.’

The façade of the building will have 2 aspects and 2 different personalities. The east facing façade that contains an entry from the UPN is made of a buff colored brick similar in color to the Sydney Sandstone. The form of this façade curves and folds like soft fabric. The brick will be set in horizontal courses and will step or corbel to create the shape. The texture of the surface will be rough and will emphasize the mass of the material. The shape flattens as it wraps around the north and south corners. Large windows punch this façade.’

‘The west facing façade that contains the ground level entry off Ultimo Road is composed of large shards of glass façade. This glass will be slightly reflective to fracture and mirror the image of the surrounding buildings of the neighborhood. Sculptural brick towers will stand at the northwest and southwest corners of this façade.’

‘The ground floor of the building will have a café with seated dining that opens to additional outdoor tables on the sidewalk and proposed plaza to the north. A coffee bar with outdoor seating will animate the upper level entry off the UPN, conveniently adjacent to the student center and the large student lounge. Connected via a staircase to the student lounge will be a more secluded graduate student lounge one level above.’

At a more practical level the Ultimo Pedestrian Network will be extended to link the old and new UTS buildings, the ABC, Powerhouse Museum and Darling Harbour, all good for our ratty neighbourhood – now the architectural hot spot of Sydney

‘The teaching and learning spaces, which are accessibly located on the lower four levels of the building, are comprised of various classroom types primarily serving postgraduate students. There are 10 graduate seminar rooms of 40 seats with flat floors to allow for flexibility in seating arrangement, a 120 seat bowl classroom with desk seating and loose chairs on the first floor, 4 flat floor graduate computer labs for 40 students each, and 2 oval classrooms for 60.’

UTS Gehry Building feedback  ( via skyscrapercity website)

Senator Chris Evans, the federal Tertiary Education Minister, said the building would be controversial. “As with all contributions to Sydney, there will be controversy and debate,” he told reporters. “That’s a good thing. It’s important that the university continues to stimulate debate and engage in it.”

Some comments so far

• Brown paper bag or ”abandoned termites nest”

• “How amusing…. a state of the art business centre where students go to learn the fundamentals for a succesful career in business…. and what better place to do it than a building that looks like an architectural recession, a portrait of a company that is in financial collapse…. “

• “Sydney has such a strong architecture scene, that I am surprised Gehry and his team designed something that is such a wilful aesthetic-based operation as opposed to something that capitalizes upon either its sense of place or climate (for instance…) as most other contemporary Sydney architecture does to great effect. It will be interesting to see how the UTS Faculty of Architecture responds to this — Otherwise I am afraid Gehry’s team has recycled their own built Dusseldorf condominium design with a few more wrinkles:”

• “Folds, wrinkles, warps, rips, explosions caught in mid-thrust, the ‘shapes of entropy’… none of these communicates stability, just the opposite. So why are these gestures so prevalent? You could say software, of course. But I think it is more than that, something else, more basic than tools. I think that the fluidity of capital has an expression. It doesn’t differentiate shapes like older industrial capital, like a factory, functional and discreet. The metaphors of expression are different; abstract, more fluid, chaotic, opportunistic…. “

• “there’s just something about Gehry’s semi-apocalyptic aesthetic that appeals to the part of my brain that likes the look of sand castles after they’ve just been crushed by a thonged foot to the hummed theme music off Godzilla.”


Frank Gehry famously bases his designs on inspired sketches..

On Gehry’s second visit to Sydney in December 2009, he contracted food poisoning. It curtailed his activities somewhat, and his meeting with the faculty had to be cut short.

Gehry was getting better, and beginning to be his old self again: sketching, talking and thinking about the essence of the building, its metaphor and exactly what it was all about. ‘I’ve got it,’ he said. ‘We had been talking about trees. ‘This is going to be a tree house, with a trunk and a core of activity, and houses in the branches for people to connect and do their private work.’

The result was this sketch of the unifying idea Gehry would employ for his design: a tree house, a ‘growing, learning organism with many branches of thought – some robust and some ephemeral and delicate’. Anyway, it’s a start.’

The UTS project committee visited some of Gehry designed buildings – such as the Disney Concert Hall, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Stata building, Princeton Library and Weatherhead School of Management – and in the process learnt more about the Gehry philosophy of design, some of which is particularly relevant to the UTS project.

Mr Gehry said accepting any project means solving big problems along the way. “I’m not an architect that brings in the model and says ‘this is it’ then I go back to LA – ‘see you later kids, call me when it’s done’,” he said. “It’s like a performance – you’re always being challenged by realities though the process.”

We examined many of his models, developing an understanding of the relationship between the blocks that represent the building’s physical construction and the technology that goes into making those buildings a reality. We also saw the architect’s current and recently completed projects in model form, including the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim, the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation building in Paris, and the Novartis headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.

Much of what we saw helped guide us in our conception of how the design will evolve and, in the end, manifest itself in the final construction. The ideas behind the striking Novartis building in particular have influenced the vice-chancellor’s vision of open office spaces, glass and natural light.

Designed by the NSW Government Architect’s office, the building for what was then the NSW Institute of Technology was supposed to comprise three towers of varying heights plus a podium, as you can see in the photo of the 1969 presentation model.

John Andrews Collection. Powerhouse Museum.

However industrial trouble and budget over-runs meant that the complex took more than a decade to complete, despite losing the two shorter towers.

Since the 1980s the 27-floor tower has become a Sydney landmark and a regular ‘winner’ of the ‘Sydney’s ugliest building’ polls that are a favourite of certain sections of the media.

UTS Tower is often reviled as an example of ‘Brutalism’, as are most large structures finished in bare concrete. Designed with users’ needs as the paramount consideration, the exterior aesthetics of Brutalist structures was not the architectural focus, to put it politely. However the UTS Tower foyer is an example of the surprisingly inviting interior spaces which are a feature of Brutalism.

It’s actually a compromised example of Brutalism, a movement which gained its name from Le Corbusier’s term ‘breton brut’ (raw concrete), as used in his signature Marseilles project, Unite d’Habitation. This public housing complex features enclosed pedestrian ‘streets’ as well as shops and other communal spaces, creating a less formal and more user-friendly version of Modernism.


Local Gehry Consultant Project team

UTS will engage a building contractor early on in the design process to work collaboratively with Gehry Partners and the consultant team. This collaboration will ensure the buildability and timely delivery of the new building.

Design Architect: Gehry Partners

Executive Architect: Daryl Jackson Robin Dyke

Engineer (services): AECOM

Engineer (structural): Arup

Transportation and traffic: Arup

Statutory Planner: RPS

Archaeological consultant: Casey & Lowe

BCA and PCA: Blackett Maguire + Goldsmith

Heritage Assessment: Godden Mackay Logan

Accessibility: Morris Godding Accessibility

Wind Assessment: Wind Tech Consulting



Biography Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry ( aka Frank Owen Gehry / F.O.G )  was born in Canada in 1929

He is a Pritzker Prize winning architect based in Los Angeles, California.

His buildings, including his private residence, have become tourist attractions. Many museums, companies, and cities seek Gehry’s services as a badge of distinction, beyond the product he delivers.

One thing that is clear on examining all of Gehry’s buildings is that no two are alike. While there is a Gehry style common to all, a very different set of structures and finishes emerges from each to create the final result.

And it has been the guiding principle of the work being undertaken on the building ever since.

Frank Gehry on the Simpsons

Frank Gehry is a guest star on The Simpsons “The Seven-Beer Snitch” episode. He is the first architect to ever appear on The Simpsons

The family visits Shelbyville and are appalled at the perception those citizens have of the inhabitants of Springfield. Back in town, Marge brings it to the attention of the Springfield Cultural Advisory Board and then asks architect Frank Gehry to design and build a new Springfield cultural center. He sees inspiration in her request and submits a design that is approved by the town. Millions of dollars later, the project is built and it opens and closes quickly as nobody in town really cares for classical music. Mr. Burns agree to take over the space, with his plan to turn it into a state prison. Homer applies for a job as a guard, but fails the drug test after Otto switches their samples.

Reference Projects

His best known works include the titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Dancing House in Prague, Czech Republic, and his private residence in Santa Monica, California, which jump-started his career, lifting it from the status of ‘paper architecture’, a phenomenon which many famous architects have experienced in their formative decades through experimentation almost exclusively on paper before receiving their first major commission in late

In conversation with television and radio commentator Geraldine Doogue to an audience of 700 at UTS in January, 2010  Gehry said his Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles was described as “broken crockery” by the media.

And in Bilbao in Spain, the town’s people asked for something “like the Sydney Opera House,” Gehry said. When the Guggenheim Museum was finished they wanted to kill him, yet a month later the distinct building had attracted so many visitors to the small Spanish town that the building had paid for it’s construction within a month, he said.


• Ronald Davis Studio & Residence, Malibu, California (1971-1972)

• Easy Edges furniture series (1972)

• Exhibit Center, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and Rouse Company Headquarters, Columbia, Maryland (1974)

• Sleep Train Pavilion, Concord, California (1975)

• Harper House, Baltimore, Maryland (1977)

• Gehry Residence (1978)

• Loyola Law School (various buildings), Los Angeles, California (1978-2002)

• Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, California (1980)

• Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, San Pedro, Los Angeles, California (1981)

• Air and Space exhibit building, California Museum of Science and Industry, Los Angeles, California (1982-1984)

• Edgemar Retail Complex, Santa Monica, California (1984)

• Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Library, Hollywood, California (1985)

• Venice Beach House (1986)

• Chiat/Day Building, Venice, California (1985-1991)

• Yale Psychiatric Institute, New Haven, Connecticut (1989)

• Vitra Design Museum, Vitra premises, Weil am Rhein, Germany (1989)

• Frederick Weisman Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota (1993)

• Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa (1987-1992)

• Festival Disney (currently Disney Village), Disneyland Paris, Paris, France (1992)

• Center for the Visual Arts, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio (1993)

• American Center (currently Cinémathèque Française), Paris, France (1994)

• Siedlung Goldstein, (162 flats, public building society), Frankfurt, Germany (1994)

• Energie Forum Innovation, Bad Oeynhausen, Germany (1995)

• Fred and Ginger (currently Dancing House), Prague, Czech Republic (1995)

• Disney Ice (currently Anaheim Ice), Anaheim, California (1995)

• Team Disney Anaheim, Anaheim, California (1995)

• Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain (1997)

• Der Neue Zollhof, Düsseldorf, Germany (1999)

• University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio (1999)

• Condé Nast Cafeteria, (Fourth floor of the Condé Nast Publishing Headquarters at Four Times Square), New York City, New York (2000)

• DZ Bank building, Pariser Platz 3, Berlin, Germany (2000)

• Experience Music Project, Seattle, Washington (2000)

• Gehry Tower, Hanover, Germany (2001)

• Issey Miyake, (flagship store), New York City, New York (2001)

• Peter B. Lewis Building, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio (2002)

• Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (2003)

• Maggie’s Dundee, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, Scotland (2003)

• Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California (2003)

• Ray and Maria Stata Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts (2004)

• Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois (2004)

• MARTa, Herford, Germany (2005)

• IAC/InterActiveCorp West Coast Headquarters, West Hollywood, California (2005)

• Brian Transeau House, Los Angeles, California (2006)

• Marqués de Riscal Vineyard Hotel, Elciego, Spain (2006)

• IAC/InterActiveCorp Headquarters, New York City, New York (2007)

• Mariza show stage, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall (2007)

• Art Gallery of Ontario (renovation), Toronto, Ontario, Canada (2008)

• Peter B. Lewis Library, Princeton University (2008)

• Serpentine Gallery Temporary Pavilion, London, England (2008)

• Gehry Building, Novartis Pharma A.G. Campus, Basel, Switzerland (2009).

• Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas, Nevada (2010)

• New World Symphony campus, Miami Beach, Florida ( 2010)


Works in progress

• The Library Building, Clapham 1, London (Expected completion 2012)

• Ohr-O’Keefe Museum Of Art, Biloxi, Mississippi (Expected opening 2006, hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Partially opened 2008. Expected completion 2010)

• The Beekman, New York City, New York (Expected completion 2011)

• Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (Expected completion 2011–2012)

• Gary Player’s Saadiyat Beach Golf Course Clubhouse, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (Expected completion 2012–2013)

• Frank Gehry Visitor Center at Hall Napa Valley, Saint Helena, California

• Biomuseo, Panama City, Panama

• The Carrie Hamilton Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, California

• World Trade Center site Performing Arts Complex, New York City, New York (Announced October 2004. Construction to begin 2010–2011)

• Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Announced October 2006. Construction yet to begin)

• Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation, Paris, France (Announced October 2006)

• Cultural Center, Łódź, Poland (Design not yet accepted)

• Suna Kıraç Cultural Center, Istanbul, Turkey (Construction yet to begin)

• Atlantic Yards, New York City, New York (Project on hold)

• Grand Avenue Project, Los Angeles, California (Project on hold)

• The Point (Five Star Hotel & Event Center), Lehi, Utah (Project on hold)

• 53 Stubbs Road, Hong Kong, China (Residential building. Announced December 2009; expected for completion in 2011.)

• Faculty of Business, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia (Expected completion 2014)

• Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, District of Columbia

• Luxury hotel, apartments and offices, Sønderborg, Denmark

• Le Parc des Ateliers SNCF, Arles, France

• Aqua City Aquarium, Ocean Park, Hong Kong

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