A mysterious Chinese benefactor and a Gehry building that looks like its in meltdown! What’s going on at the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building?

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Every time I ride into UTS, I’m always amazed by not only the amount of building works going on around the old core university buildings but also the rapid progress being made. I’d realised that some of the buildings must be for the University but I hadn’t realised the scale of the development and I had no clear idea of what they might look like on completion. A mini city of academia is springing up right before my eyes. Lecture 6, ”IT and Construction Delivery” gave me an opportunity to get a “behind the scenes” look at one of the buildings, the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building.  The presentation was delivered by Julian D’Onofrio, a project engineer from Lend Lease, one of the biggest global property management and construction companies and Rick Benjamin, a BIM technician from ARUP, another global giant, this time in engineering.

sydney opera houseThe Dr Chau Chak Wing Building is a truly innovative building, from its single and only straight column, to the curved floor plans and custom made and unusually shaped bricks.  Owing to this innovation and non-standard design  there is considerable risk attached to this project. The potential for significant cost overruns and delays in these type of projects is high. You only have to think of the huge cost blow outs  and delays associated with another innovative and non-standard project, the  Sydney Opera House. So how do we create innovative buildings on time and within budget? According to our presenters, the answer is innovative processes and technology, in a nutshell  BIM. I’ve already discussed BIM and how it works in in a previous post, Is It a bird?… Is it a plane?… No It’s… BIM???, so I won’t go into again here but suffice to say and as the presenters pointed out, there is no way they could have achieved the great results they have without the implementation of BIM across the whole project.

5 different custom made bricks

5 different custom made bricks

Among the many fascinating innovations presented, my particular favourite was the custom made external brickwork. OK, so not usually the most fascinating of subjects. Most bricks in Australia are just standard bricks, 230 x 110 x 76mm high but not these bricks.There were five different types, the most unusual, dubbed the “K Brick”  has been designed so one part sits in the wall and another protrudes from the surface. It all seems a little extravagant but it is necessary. The complexity of the building’s design, in terms of its curvature and the sharp angles of the façade requires these special bricks.

Testing angled brick wall

Testing angled brick wall

These bricks are not just unusual in shape, the way they are being used is also innovative. They are creating brick walls with angles of up to 26°, something for obvious reasons, you normally don’t do! I’m really looking forward to mid-2014 when the blue veil of scaffolding will be taken down and we can finally see this highly unusual exterior brickwork.

the gherkinI struggled to get my head around this building. At first glance, the completed model looked liked something had gone terribly wrong during construction. It has a sort of crumpled or melted look at about it. There seems to be a fashion of late to give innovative buildings nicknames based on their appearance; the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe, London, UK), the Cheese Grater (122 Leadenhall St, London, UK) and my favourite the Marilyn Monroe (Absolute City Centre, Mississauga, Canada). Maybe Sydneysiders will rename it, from  the slightly awkward Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, to the “Paper bag” or the “Crumpled box”?

The name of the building intrigued me and I wondered about the building’s namesake Dr Chau Chak Wing. He is a Chinese-Australian business leader and philanthropist who although having small and inconspicuous investments in Australia is quickly gaining a higher profile, particularly amongst Australia’s political classes. He seems to be quite a mysterious character and little is known of his business history.

Dr Chau Chak Wing and Kevin Rudd

Dr Chau Chak Wing and Kevin Rudd

Dr Chau Chak Wing was the subject of a sustained investigation in  July 2009 by The Sydney Morning Herald (“Chinese billionaire funding our MPs”) into donations to Australia’s major political parties. This investigation, interestingly enough was kicked off by an journalism alumni of UTS, Nic Christensen and it won him the Walkley Foundation’s Media Super Student Journalist of the Year Award in 2009. So what’s Dr Wing’s connection with UTS and why would he want to donate $20 million to this project? It may be linked to his son, Eric who studied and maybe is still studying Architecture at UTS but I also wonder if there are possibly other, more political and business related reasons for his generous donation.

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The building has been designed by the the world renown and prolific “master” architect, Frank Gehry who was labelled by the famous lifestyle magazine, Vanity Fair in 2010, as “the most important architect of our age” (“Architecture in the Age of Gehry”). In an entertaining discussion with architect and graphic designer, Richard Saul Wurman in 2002, Mr Gehry said  “If I knew where I was going, I wouldn’t do it. When I can predict or plan it, I don’t do it”. I feel this quote really describes his underlying design ethos of a flowing organic style of architecture It’s as if his buildings have grown out of the land rather than being constructed. Talking about his inspiration for the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, Mr Gehry had this to say;

Frank Gehry Tree house

I’m looking forward to 2014 when the building is finished and I can finally climb up into Mr Gehry’s “tree house” and swing from a few branches!

Next week, we have  Michael Parks from Hansen Yunken, one of the leading privately owned construction companies in Australia coming in to present ”Constructing the future: HyWay System and Enterprise BIM Initiative”.

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One thought on “A mysterious Chinese benefactor and a Gehry building that looks like its in meltdown! What’s going on at the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building?

  1. Pingback: IT & Construction: JULIAN D’ONOFRIO & RICK BENJAMIN | IT Driving Building Innovation: What Now?

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