Five Senses Architecture

Can the architecture stimulates the 5 senses? That is the challenge of the London firm Toogood Studio who are collaborating with Penfolds, an Australian wine producer, to create a temporary wine bar in Sydney.

This British firm is not new to working in the international market and with famous clients, from Kenzo to Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. The event has just terminated last week in Sydney in the glamorous location of Walsh Bay (16th March to the 5th of April), but the second stop of the travelling wine bar will be in Melbourne for 5 weeks through July.

The project The Blocks is a mix of good food, chilled atmosphere and refined design, Toogood create something that is between an interior design project and an art object. This interesting collaboration is between the elegant British design firm and the emerging bubbling arts Australian contest composed by Stevie Fieldsend, Samuel Hodge, Kit Webster, Katherine Huang and Haines & Hinterding.

The British design studio crossed the ocean to show its abilities in this new adventure to take the design to another level that is not just interior decor, but interconnection with art, customers and feelings. The elegant Spade chairs and tables by Faye Toogood look perfectly mixed with the other artworks to the point that one almost doesn’t want to use the furniture for its primary use!

The restaurant works such an interactive game, where you have to allow your senses to guide you along the five steps of the tour. Every block represents different kinds of wine, perfume and aroma, and is characterised by a different artwork: wood totems, photo galleries, coloured diamond suspended from the roof, a variety of abandoned objects apparently without any connection between them and aura pictures.

Particularly smart is the lighting design which creates an atmosphere that is a mix between the spot illumination of an art gallery and the open glare of a restaurant, with grape-shaped lamps collected in metal wires above the tables to capture the attentions of the visitor. The use of coarse materials stimulates the touch sense in an experience that did not leave any details without thought. Keep track of the travelling wine bar by checking the events programme here.

Sydney calendar events 2012

The new season in Sydney promises to be very busy with art, design and architecture events. Over the past few years, Sydney has improved immeasurably in the number of open spaces and opportunities to talk about emerging and experimental architecture and design.

To open the season in the beginning of March was Green City 2012, that instead of organising conferences exclusively for design professionals, decided to direct the events at the city dweller, organising workshops and activity spaces to better educate the public’s awareness of environment problems.

This is exactly what Sydney is doing: organising large scale events that bring the people closer to their city. That happens in Vivid Sydney which will ‘switch on’ its lights from 25 May until 11 June. Every year the event proposes a mix of concerts, light shows and experimental exhibitions and this year beyond the lights show in Circular Quay will be Urbanscreen, the Germany creative firm that is going to lighting the sinuous shapes of the Opera House.

One event that looks particularly interesting is Sparc Design 2012 (31 May – 2 June), a mix of interactive display, high quality images and texts that guide the visitor around the exhibition. At the first sight it looks like a close exhibition for design professionals, but on the last day (Saturday 2 June) the event is open to the public for free, with workshops and activities for kids.

Vivid Sydney is housing Our generative ecology symposium by Billy Blue’s Design College (1 June). The aim is get together the academic and industry worlds to share, exchange and discuss ideas. On 8 June, during Vivid Sydney, the Sydney Architecture Festival is going to present the topic for this year – Beyond Boundaries – asking ‘What would you do if you were Mayor for a day?’ to open the discussion about the future of the metropolis. This will be an invite-only event, but the results will be shown during the Sydney Architecture Festival (24 October – 4 November).

From Thursday 26 April to 14 June, Sydney Open presents a series of talks, study groups and walking tours starting with Talks: House. The event will provide a good opportunity to discuss the development of the Australian housing market over the past few years.

No events preview could be complete without mentioning the 18th Arts Biennale which will be held 27 June until 16 September. It will probably not have the same importance of many others around the world, but will be a good way to review the contemporary art status in Australia.

Unfortunately less promoted compared to the others events is Smarts House 2012 (13 – 27 April) produced by the City of Sydney. It is a youth arts festival to show the works of young people between 15-26 years old in the areas of visual arts, design, film, performance arts and music. A good stage for young talents with few money in their pockets but a lot of ideas on their mind. It is an interesting way for youth to approach the art world and enjoy the parties organised in this occasion around Chippendale.

For more information about these events please click here.

Reopening of the Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is reopening this week on Thursday 29 March after almost two years of works and AUD$53m spent for the redevelopment. The project is the result of a collaboration between the Sydney-based studio Sam Marshall Architect and the New South Wales Government Architect’s Office.

The new project, with its 4,500 sq m increase almost doubling the size of the existing museum, is destined to become the major cultural centre for contemporary art and education in the city. The museum building was originally designed by Government architect W.H. Whithers in 1939 and was completed in 1952.

The museum is located in Circular Quay in the spectacular frame of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and, like many of the art galleries opened in the last few years, will give residents a lot to talk about. When the project was first proposed the Sydney Morning Herald described it as a ‘Rubik’s Cube’ and was critical of the design, suggesting that the new form was too different from the original volume.

I had the opportunity to speak to the architect, Sam Marshall, and asked him: You said that your project is intentionally different from the building on the side, but what is the link that connects the two volumes?

“The new building takes a lot of queues from the old building but then puts them in place is a different way. The old building is a series of big boxes as is the new, but the very strong by symmetry of the old which intentionally expressed the might of the previous building owner, is random in the new to express an institution that is inclusive and creative. The old building is small pieces of natural stone while the new is natural but huge panels of precast glass reinforced concrete. The old has traditional windows as holes in walls whereas the new allows views into and out of the building by pushing and pulling the volumes apart. There are many more such correlations.”

Actually I think that the discussion about the contrast between the old and new sections is a little bit dull and reduces the problem of the architecture to just the shape of the building, especially in a city like Sydney where the best architecture is born from  experimentation. What could be a better example of architecture if not the close neighbour of the MCA, the Opera House?

That does not mean having to justify every kind of project but simply focusing the attention in the city where we are working. Even if Australia has always been very influenced by Europe, we do not forget that the background is still different and the weight represented from the architectural heritage is not the same.

Hopefully the new opening could give better cues of analysis of the project such as how the people use the space, the flexibility of the space to housing different kinds of exhibition and if the building has successfully fulfilled the brief.

Next weekend, to celebrate the official opening, the museum is going to organise a series of workshops, performances and lectures. Furthermore new exhibitions are going to open their doors, such as Marking Time with the works of 11 Australian and international artists, The Clock by Christian Marklay and for the first time. The MCA also dedicates an entire floor to a permanent exhibition by more than 170 Australian artists in Volume One: MCA Collection.

EmAGN Photographic Exhibition

If you are walking around Darlinghurst it is worth dropping into the Whole Meal Café at Taylor Square to view the free photographic exhibition realised after a one day photographic competition organised by DARCH, the NSW division of the National Emerging Architects and Graduates Network (EmAGN) of the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) and Fraser Studio in December 2011.

The exhibition was opened on 23rd February and shows the competition-winning works among others. The winner was Felix Rausch of Choi Ropiha Fighera Architects, Miki McBride and Stephanie Hughes of SJB Architects shared joint second place and in third place was Barbara Busina.

The exhibition was also being held under the scaffolding at the Central Park construction site, in front of the UTS Tower, but had to be closed last week due to adverse weather conditions. This location was quite unexpected but matched perfectly with the urban style of the pictures. The scaffolding became the base structure for a small open-air urban art gallery.

The initial competition entrants were invited to respond to architect Robin Boyd’s ‘The Australian Ugliness’, a text which opened up groundbreaking debates about design, the nature of the architect and urban planning in the 1960s: “The Australian ugliness is bigger and better here… There is beauty to be discovered here, natural and artistic, the trouble is that it must be discovered.”

This initiative represented an opportunity to analyse how the new generation of architects see the city with its contradiction of colours, lights, materials and styles, and stimulate new debates about Sydney. It is significant that the photos in the Central Park exhibition were displayed on the wall of one of the buildings destined to be a landmark development in Sydney. One can view this as a sign that the young generation of architects in Sydney are being fairly represented in the city, despite recent speculations.

In fact the EmAGN is going to organise another competition this year to promote the work and the capacity of young architects around the country. The exhibition will run indefinitely from 23rd of February at the Whole Meal Cafè, 6 Flinders St, Darlinghurst, Sydney.

UTS Interviews: Durbach Block Jaggers Architects


Durbach Block Jaggers in association with BVN

This week I met with Mitchell Thompson from architecture firm, Durbach Block Jaggers to talk about their project that won an international competition for the UTS Thomas Street Building, borne from a collaboration with BVN. The building will house many services for the UTS Science Faculty. Durbach Block Jaggers Architects is a Sydney-based architectural firm with a small team that have worked together for over 10 years. Their practice is focused especially in residential and public/commercial projects.

Describe the concept of your project in three words?
Animated, connected and flexible.

What do you think was the key that allowed at your project to be the winner in the competition?
We think that perhaps the competition jury identified with the design’s combination of an emotive and memorable form with a rational and flexible functionality.

The building is located in front of another major scheme, like Central Park. What will be the connection between two projects that will considerably change the image of Sydney?
There is no deliberate link between our proposal and the new development called Central Park. Broadway road itself is a major buffer between the development and the university. The ‘Alumni Green’ is really a bit like UTS’ version of Central Park in New York. Our intention is to enhance and protect this space and so we imagined our new building as a grove of trees at the edge of a beautiful green. It is our hope that the fine grained and variegated façade combined with its organic form will be evocative of this idea.

Is there the risk that the Broadway area will be just a patchwork of projects that celebrate the architect but without any relation between them?
Good architecture will always intelligently acknowledge its neighbours and ensure that the whole is more than just the sum of its parts.

What is the approach when you have to work in the middle of other big projects, of architects with such strong personalities as Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry…?
Strong architecture creates a context that deserves and demands a response that strives to emulate the architectural and urban ambition but not their form.

Barangaroo: Real architecture or developers dream?

Last week, The Daily Telegraph reported that Barangaroo Central is likely to house a new hotel and casino complex. The plan is thought to cost $1bn and be developed by James Packer’s casino group Crown. The announcement of the new project has again opened up the controversial discussion about the planning of the Barangaroo area, which over the last years has involved developers, architects, politics and city dwellers.

The building will be situated in one of the best locations in the heart of Barangaroo, between the already well-known South Barangaroo areas designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners in 2009 and developed by Lend Lease (whose buildings are now under the assessment regime of the NSW Government’s Department of Planning and Infrastructure) and Headland park in the north, designed by Johnson Pilton Walker, in association with Peter Walker and Partners who won the international competition for the master plan in 2009.

For this strategic location near Sydney CBD, the 350 room hotel/casino could enjoy the amazing panoramic views over the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and Darling Harbour. The centre is going to house a high-end shopping area, multiple restaurants and a resorts pool on the rooftop. The complex is focused to appeal to and increase the proportion of local and international high end clientele and especially create a marked increase in the number of Asian tourists. The new casino will be located almost in front of the Star, the second biggest Casino in Australia, placed in Pyrmont just on the other side of the Harbour.

The discussion about that new building is surely just in the beginning; the interests at stake are really high in an area that is one of the more lucrative in Sydney. Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, reminded those involved that in accordance with the city plan, Barangaroo Central is reserved for civic, education and recreational use. But on the opposite side, the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrel is supporting the project considering it ‘an exciting proposal which could add extra life to Barangaroo, give Sydney another world-class hotel, generate jobs and boost tourism’. [The Sydney Morning Herald 27 February 2012].

Following the debate over the last few days, it is sad see that the architecture and urban planning do not play a large part in the quarrels over the realisation of the scheme. At this point does not really matter if the project will be realised, where it will be located or the percentage that will devoted to public space, but how could that could be influencing the urban city fabric? In a city where many factors are coinciding together – big money, big clients, multicultural contest and opportunities for experimentation – why that does not spark off a real analysis about how we can enhance the new Sydney?

UTS project: Frank Gehry Business School

On the corner of Omnibus Lane and Ultimo lane, preparations for the opening of the construction site for the Business School Dr Chau Chark Building in the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Broadway Campus by Frank Gehry and Partners are underway. The 16,000 sq m of the Business School is comprised of 11 floors and will cost around $150m. The building have two distinct facades: in the east face Gehry tries to reflect Sydney’s heritage architecture thought the use of coloured brick. The bricks are set to form a folds and curves with a rough textured fabric. The west facade is to feature a large piece of glass to vertically ‘break’ the building and reflect the neighbouring architectural fabric.

Gehry’s plan arose from an idea to create vertical stacks of office floors resembling a tree-house with cracks in between, creating a place for focused research and cross-disciplinary interaction. The design seeks to incorporate and interact with its surroundings. Natural sunlight will flood in through the large, specially positioned windows and glass panels at the street level try to create a feeling of transparency and openness.

Like every Frank Gehry project around the world, the UTS Broadway Campus has been followed by many discussions about the extravagance of his design. Actually I think that it would be so much more superficial to just talk about the shape of his buildings, instead of analysing the reasons that every time raises a dust around his projects. We cannot deny the fact that it doesn’t matter if the project is liked or not: the shape, the material, the interaction with the city. The reality is that the projects of Gehry always call the attention of the media.

It is likely that this is exactly the result that UTS is looking for; increasing its international fame enormously after this project, in the same was that Bilbao has altered in reputation over the last 10 years thanks to Gehry. One project is capable of starting the regeneration of a whole city. Even if the other projects by Lacoste, Marshall and Durban Bloch + BVN could be create a real dialogue with the city and answer the real needs of the people that will live these spaces, probably the first link that we will have in our mind about UTS Campus will be the Gehry’s building. Because architecture like every other art form is often polemic.

BVN Projects Tour in Sydney CBD

In the last few years there has been an increasing interest to develop a good environment in the work place, where employees can not only work effectively, but can enjoy the time that they spend there; the most famous example are Google’s offices around the world. This week, in an effort to know more about their practice, I had the pleasure to visit some of the work places designed by BVN in the CBD.

BVN, composed by Bligh, Voller and Nield, is a famous Australian firm largely involved in a lot of urban, architectural and interior projects around the Country with four offices in Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney. Our tour started from the BVN office located on the 11th floor of the Hilton Hotel Complex on 255 Pitt Street.

The office is a renovation of a 70′s commercial office. The first impression when you enter is that of an elegant contrast between the wall’s entrance covered with a light panel timber and the wall that guides you inside of the studio where there are images of the projects framed in a black layout. Suddenly on your right you can see a part of the big windows at the end of the corridor that frame the cupola of the Victoria’s Building.

The big open space is characterised by concrete floors that were maintained from the original project in contrast with the silver covering of the wiring system of the ceiling. The visual organisation of the open space office, where the people can see each other from every corner of the room, is only interrupted by thin steel columns that support the electric cable for every desk.

Along the side of the Pitt St. facades is a veranda. That space represents a relaxed area, but is also a meeting point to discuss projects, characterised by big windows, a light timber floor and a plastic panel wall where there are sketches, pictures and drawings attached. The office is such a smart design, because it creates a flexible space that includes sliding doors and walls that create closed spaces for private meeting on the corners of the room.

The second stop is the Challenger Offices just six floors down in the same building. The three-floor office was completed in 2007. The main focus of the project is a central atrium space that houses an inner staircase that connects the three levels physically and visually and creates meeting places around it. The offices around the stairs are organised as open space, with coloured boxes that hold private meeting rooms.

The visual connection between all of the floors and the big windows of the facades create a bright and comfortable space, enriched by an elegant choice of furniture. BVN won the 2010 RAIA NSW Interior Architecture Awards for this project. Just around the corner, on 420 George Street, we can find the Aecom Sydney Workplace.

The project was completed last year and it is the last of a long series of collaborations between Aecom and BVN. The 11,500 sq m project is developed into 9 floors, and it is thought to hold 850 people who were previously located in five different offices.

The project was developed after the design of the building and structure was already realised. For that reason, the creation of the big hall and the stairs that connect all of the floors is the result of a strong collaboration between BVN and the engineering team. The space is organised into three areas: services and meeting rooms, open space offices and a veranda. The veranda is a relaxed space located just in front of the big window facades that frame a huge view of the Sydney CBD. In that area, the wiring system is uncovered to represent one of the activities of the company.

The two stairs represent a good example of interaction between designer and engineer. The central one is irregularly shaped and the second one located on the side of the facade is supported by a big steel beam that also works as a handrail.

One of the most curious details of the office is the garden on the terrace that in some way represents the contribution of the workers in the development of the office: plants and flower brought from many countries and mixed together in the gorgeous CBD’s view.

Architects on the Radio

On Tuesday, 7th February, the architectural program The Architects started again after a summer break on 3RRR Independent Radio in Melbourne. The Architects, which first started airing in 2004, is a weekly program hosted by the architects Simon Knott, Stuart Harrison and Christine Phillips and the international correspondent Rory Hide.

This non-profit initiative has only the purpose to be the vehicle of promotion for architecture projects, urban design and events. It is possible to follow the show on its FM broadcast and also via the web every Tuesday from 7 to 8 pm (GMT+10).

Every week the program talks about local and international architecture with guests who are invited to discuss or show their work, broken up by a music playlist created by the team. The show is set up as an informal conversation with its guests. It aims to not only bring in an expert audience but to appeal to anyone who may be interested in or curious about the challenges of the city. What makes the broadcast so interesting is that its hosts come from different backgrounds and practices and therefore have different viewpoints to contribute to the discussion.

Christine Phillips is the Director of Open Haus Studio; Stuart Harrison is the Director of Harrison and White, and Simon Knott is the Director of BKK Architects. All of these practices are involved in the construction of their projects as well as the research and media communication. The team was selected to participate in the Australian Pavilion in the Biennale di Venezia 2012.

Simon Knott participated in the last Biennale for the Australian Exposition, entitled Now + When – Australian Urbanism, which envisioned the future cities in 2050 and also in the 2008 Biennale where they were invited to create a model to reinterpret Buckminster Fullers’ geodesic dome.

In a time where we are surrounded by a lot of architecture’s images from all over the world, thanks to 3D modelling and photos readily available on the internet, it is interesting to see how radio is still working as a good medium to talk about architecture at a high level which is also understandable to everyone.

UTS interviews: Denton Corker Marshall

This week we meet with the architecture firm, Denton Corker Marshall, to talk about the project that won the international competition for the Broadway Building, the IT and Engineering Faculty project on the UTS Campus.

Although their practice is in Melbourne, where they opened the first office in 1974, Denton Corker Marshall are not new to big impact projects in Sydney, such as their design for the Site of the First Government House in the CBD. The firm also has two other offices in London and Jakarta.

To talk with me about the UTS project are directors Adrian FitzGerald and Ian White.

What are three words that can describe the concept of your project?

Singular, sculptural and connections.

What do you think was the key that allowed your project to be the winner in the design competition?

The concept captured the imagination of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ross Milbourne – and the university community – and the other competition judges including Graham Jahn and Professor James Weirick. They saw it as fulfilling their primary desire to create a new gateway to the campus, whose compelling urban design will activate and link the university with its community.

The concept embodies the faculty’s motto, ‘Where creativity meets technology’. Screens made of aluminium sheets are perforated with the ’1s’ and ’0s’ of binary code and applied to the four tilted and skewed plates that compose the building’s volume. The screens operate at multiple scales, the transparency adjusting depending on proximity to the building. Up close, there is clear visibility through the screens; from a distance they appear uniform and continuous. The binary pattern created is a re-working of the binary sequence for ‘University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology’.

The Faculty of Engineering in the UTS campus is one of a long list of educational projects. What do you think is the ‘recipe’ for a good project that also has a big symbolic role, like the education of the future generations?

Successful architecture embraces the pedagogical philosophy of the university and offers flexibility to cater for ever-changing needs and inevitable churn. Science education is placing more emphasis on actively involving students in learning through enhanced technology (TEAL) and environments which foster social interaction and participation, and exchange between the faculty’s schools and research centres.

In terms of its architecture, this collaborative culture materialises in the ultra thin crevasse-like atrium which links all teaching, learning and social spaces. It’s a dynamic space with open stairs, random bridge links and lounges for informal encounters.

The crevasse provides naturally-lit pedestrian access through the building, and directly links the UTS education precinct to the local neighbourhood. Full height glazing and the binary screen maintain a high level of transparency, and this openness means activities inside are visible and engaging beyond the campus.

The building is located in front of another big project, Central Park. What will be the connection between two projects that will considerably change the image of Sydney? Is there the risk that the Broadway area will be just a patchwork of projects that celebrate the architect but without any relation between them?

The location is undergoing substantial urban transformation from older mixed use into a vibrant inner urban quarter. As the old brewery changes into a major dense urban residential precinct, the university is responding with its own rejuvenation by embarking on a $1bn upgrade. Our project is one of twelve in the university’s city campus master plan.

The strength of Broadway as a major urban street leading into the CBD will ensure that individual buildings, together with the city’s development guidelines, each contribute to the larger urban vision. Good architecture is always an important contribution to the street quality and the public realm experience. Our project holds the street line, and provides weather protection to the footpaths. By opening up at street level to reveal its activities, the building will enliven the street and allow direct visual engagement of the university from the public realm.

In the project description on the UTS web page, the building is defined as a sculpture and that is destined to become one of the new landmarks in the city. How can two impact buildings, like yours and Gehry’s, live together?

Great cities around the world are marked by great urban spaces and great architecture. You can never have enough of each. If you think of Rome, the presence of more of Borromini’s, Michelangelo’s or Bernini’s work only serves to make the city more beautiful.

The same is the case for Sydney. The Broadway Building is in a different precinct to the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, and it is a measure of successful urban design that distinct projects can together significantly enhance the broader urban realm.