Architecture

Frank Gehry’s "paper bag" – a new architectural icon for Australia?

The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by American architect Frank Gehry (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by American architect Frank Gehry (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
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The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by American architect Frank Gehry (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
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The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by American architect Frank Gehry (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
(Photo: Andrew Worssam)
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(Photo: Andrew Worssam)
The UTS building was originally scratched onto a napkin with a pen over lunch when Gehry had the simple idea of a treehouse (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
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The UTS building was originally scratched onto a napkin with a pen over lunch when Gehry had the simple idea of a treehouse (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
The "paper bag" is part of the business school at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and will house over 1,600 students and staff (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
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The "paper bag" is part of the business school at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and will house over 1,600 students and staff (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
The building is made from 320,000 handmade bricks, set an angles so tricky that one of Australia’s master bricklayers had to come out of retirement to complete the project (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
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The building is made from 320,000 handmade bricks, set an angles so tricky that one of Australia’s master bricklayers had to come out of retirement to complete the project (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
The most striking feature of the building is its east-facing sandstone colored, undulating facade (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
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The most striking feature of the building is its east-facing sandstone colored, undulating facade (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
Interest in the "paper bag" has been strong and reviews generally complimentary (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
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Interest in the "paper bag" has been strong and reviews generally complimentary (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by American architect Frank Gehry (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
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The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by American architect Frank Gehry (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
The inside of the building certainly tries to avoid the hallowed nature of yesteryear’s universities (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
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The inside of the building certainly tries to avoid the hallowed nature of yesteryear’s universities (Photo: Andrew Worssam)

American architect Frank Gehry’s first work in Australia was officially opened Monday. The AUD180 million (US$138 million) Dr Chau Chak Wing Building is part of the business school at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and will house over 1,600 students and staff. Australia’s Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove has called it "the most beautiful squashed brown paper bag I've ever seen."

Named after the Chinese-Australian billionaire who contributed a total of AUD25 million towards the cost, and whose son Eric attends the university, the building was first approved in 2010 and work began in November 2012.

The most striking feature of the building is its east-facing sandstone colored, undulating facade. The building is made from 320,000 handmade bricks, set an angles so tricky that one of Australia’s master bricklayers had to come out of retirement to complete the project.

Why brick? "The 19th century buildings in Sydney are still the most accessible," said Gehry. "There is a humanity about them and the modern buildings can be cold and off-putting so the idea of using brick was a part of the (building) community here, there is a brick culture."

Sir Cosgrove agreed, saying that "the traditional notions of hallowed sandstone quadrangles, spires and large lecture halls as symbols of tertiary education have been reinvented."

The inside of the building certainly tries to avoid the hallowed nature of yesteryear’s universities, with oval classrooms and areas designed to encourage students to collaborate. Lecture areas also avoid the traditional hierarchical structure.

The inside of the building certainly tries to avoid the hallowed nature of yesteryear’s universities (Photo: Andrew Worssam)
The inside of the building certainly tries to avoid the hallowed nature of yesteryear’s universities (Photo: Andrew Worssam)

Interest in the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building has been strong and reviews generally complimentary. It has also been awarded a 5-Star Green Star rating, owing, among other things, to an aircon system that senses then adjusts for the number of people in a room.

"This building can and will be manipulated over time and will change as it's being used," said Gehry. "People will invent ways to use it. The tendency to build buildings where everything is fixed for a fixed program is an obsolete."

Gehry himself is something of an interesting anomaly, not simply for his designs but because unlike other architects he does not really write or publish much on the great, overarching theories that inform his work.

In fact, the UTS building was originally scratched onto a napkin with a pen over lunch when he had the simple idea of a treehouse. After that some 150 wooden and paper models of varied sizes were built, the final designs were modeled using aviation software from Dassault Systèmes.

Source: University of Technology Sydney

9 comments
Bob Flint
Most buildings will begin to show some wear & tear, this one is just ahead of the aging and will also show cracks, gaps and imperfections. My wife asks me why do walls get cracks? Nothing is ever stable, things are always in some form of motion, be it through vibrations from air, rail & vehicular traffic, to thermal expansion & contraction through the seasons. I tell her that the house develops age lines, & wrinkles just as our bodies age so do things we build.
Fast Eddie
I saw a building almost identical to that a couple of years ago...in Chernobyl!
Readout Noise
"Named after the Chinese-Australian billionaire who contributed a total of AUD25 million towards the cost, and whose son Eric attends the university" ...so, no pressure then to give the kid a 1st class honour degree. No, none at all!
owlbeyou
Up close, one can see the intricacies of the bricklaying and engineering involved in building such a structure... But from a distance it is... just plain weird. Ten years from now, will this become better-appreciated or a total eyesore? Fail.
Nelson Hyde Chick
I hate Frank Gehry’s work! Using titanium for Bilbo, Guggenheim was just crazy in how expensive it was, and lets not forget about the heat generated by parabolic surfaces on the LA auditorium.
Captain Obvious
This is what happens when you sketch your concept on a napkin....then crumble it up.
bergamot69
I love it- totally unique, and not just another concrete modernist block that looks daring when brand new but would get uglier with age- I think that this building will have it's detractors but will grow on people. And being brick, it will age gracefully.
Max Kennedy
Ugly as dog crap on a sidewalk!
McDesign
What is it with Frank and windows - why can't he make 'em less ugly? They always look like barnacles haphazardly stuck on his sweeping forms. Sheesh
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