Chau Chak Wing: Gehry icon in the making

Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, Frank Gehry

The Chau Chak Wing of the Business School at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), is reaching completion later this year. Designed by Frank Gehry, one of the most controversial architects of our time, it will become one of Sydney’s iconic landmarks. Its challenging facade is sure to attract attention despite it being located in Ultimo. In fact there are a number of interesting projects in the vicinity as well as the Ultimo goods line makeover currently under construction. It too is scheduled to be completed later this year. The integration of these projects will make Ultimo a vibrant and exciting precinct.

Bringing any large scale creative project to fruition requires fabricators, assistants, artisans, constructors, labourers – a diverse pool of trades and skills – to bring about the vision of the architect. It takes time, careful planning and the ability to fulfil key responsibilities. It’s not surprising that stakeholders take ownership of elements of the project and feel a sense of co-creation.

Frank Gehry building slowly unveiled in April 2014. Photo by Rita Bila

Frank Gehry building slowly unveiled in April 2014. Photo by Rita Bila

The bricklayers on this project in particular have had one of the most challenging tasks creating the undulating and ‘crushed’ walls. Rising to the occasion after years of creating regular squared brickwork has given the ‘brickies’ immense pride in their trade skills and their ability to meet the unusual reqiurements of the innovative design. Their dedication and perseverance in solving the problems presented by the brief has made them push boundaries and restrictions that hinders development.

The undulating curves of the building displays the level of difficulty faced by the brickies. Photo Rita Bila

The undulating curves of the building displays the level of difficulty faced by the brickies. Photo Rita Bila

Precision work has re-engaged the workers with the ‘craft’ of their trade. The measure of a job well done on this project has been diverted from one of stacking as many bricks as possible in a day to one measured by the quality and meticulous attention to detail. Interpreting the artistry of the design, meeting loadbearing and structural features, ensuring corbeling is kept under control, achieving the precision of the design as specified by Gehry is key to the work’s success. Realising the job has tried all the skills of these brickies and they’re proud of their work. This job has asked each bricklayer to be an artist of their trade.

To hear the workers in the video refer to the job as the highlight of their career, a place where they will take their collegues, co-workers and family to show off their handiwork, places the project alongside the Opera House for achievement and craftsmanship.

The Business school building will not just be a unique place of study that will facilitate new ways of learning through cross-faculty relationships. It will also put on display the ‘porosity’ of the architectural design and be a place where the ‘brickies’ will pay homage to their craft and those that came before them. They will honour what can be achieved when their medium is pushed beyond the boundaries and confines of an industry that demands efficiency and they will admire the art.

Some footage here reveals the early stages of the build.

Construction starts on UTS Dr Chau Chak Wing Bulding by Frank Gehry from UTS City Campus Master Plan on Vimeo.