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.

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