Architect Frank Gehry has reached an enviable place in his career. After 53 years in the business, Gehry has the experience and clout to manifest his experimental ideas of giving buildings a sense of movement. His plastic sense of form has changed architecture for all time. And to his detractors (pop music stars and tweens would call them “haters”), Gehry responds by literally giving them the middle finger and moving on.
We should all be so professionally blessed.
The Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building of Sydney’s UTS Business School opened February 2 and is noteworthy for its undulating brick facade, an interior Gehry compares to a treehouse and the way it’s dividing the residents of Sydney and the architectural press. The building utilizes some 320,000 custom-designed bricks; some of these project outward from the building along several curves and folds. Love it or hate it, it’s without question the most unique and remarkable brick building of this young century.
The facade springs from Gehry’s experiments with new technology available to architects and his desire to create a sense of motion. In this video Gehry tells a pool of reporters that he’s attempted to “emulate the world of movement” over the last 30 years. He looks to the kinetics of cars and airplanes, the native aesthetic of any large city, to create a feeling not found in conventional architectural design. One gets the sense from his comments that he’s spent several decades waiting for technology to catch up with him. It’s a challenging and dangerous space for Gehry to occupy.
So of course people are griping about the new building. The most common complaint, and one we can certainly see ourselves, is that the building resembles a crumpled paper bag. In an article on ArchDaily, you can see how the detractors are falling over each other to heap derision on the design. Sydney critic Elizabeth Farrelly upped the paper bag comment by adding that the school looked like it had been “karate chopped” in the middle.
This all came to a head in October when Gehry spoke with Spanish journalists at the Prince of Asturias Awards programme for the arts. A reporter asked Gehry for his response to critics who accuse the architect of creating buildings for show. In a move that would make Kanye West proud, Gehry responded by raising his middle finger and saying: “Let me tell you one thing. In the world we live in, 98 percent of what gets built and designed today is pure shit. There’s no sense of design nor respect for humanity or anything. They’re bad buildings and that’s it.”
Now, we don’t agree with the whole of his statement, obviously. New and fascinating buildings come out with such alarming frequency that we barely have the time to cover them on CFile. Gehry certainly isn’t the only architect pushing the envelope, but he doesn’t deserve to be pilloried for taking risks, either.
Of course we don’t live in Sydney. We’re based out of Santa Fe, where the law of the land is to design every building in stucco fauxdobe. We don’t have to live with the UTS Business School taking up a piece of our skyline. If you’re in Sydney and want to weigh in on the building, please do so in the comment box below.
Bill Rodgers is a Contributing Editor at CFile.
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An overview of the new building. Click to view.
Gehry on technology. Click to view.