Tuesday, 3 February 2015


With the announcement of the formal opening of Sydney’s new UTS building, Gehry’s work once more makes startling headlines across the world. The reviews are potentially positive in promoting the hype of the concept. Only occasionally are they quaintly ambivalent - ‘the design has been slammed by some’ - noting that ‘some,’ hinted as being a few grumpy, disenchanted academics or less-talented architects, do not like this architecture that has real impact for the media in love with extremes and differences. ‘Man bites dog’ is news, whereas ‘Dog bites man’ is not. The whistle blower syndrome cuts in on the vocal critics and the blame is placed squarely on their shoulders: their problem is their problem. There appears to be some potential pride, perhaps pure praise, some naive delight in describing the building, as the Governor-General of Australia did, as "the most beautiful squashed brown paper bag I've ever seen". The words are seen as ‘jokey- blokey’ congratulations. No one cringes at this comment or asks if this odd description has any real cynical side to it. Nor does anyone suggest that it might be touching a raw nerve of everyday experience, some real concern. Are leaders merely being overly polite, cleverly avoiding the obvious?

There seems to be no necessary relationship to ordinary, honest feeling in these reports. These sensibilities seem to be numbed. The media, with its surreal hype, silently thumps those who have apparently ‘slammed’ the design. It never gives details of the critique for others to ponder. It proudly promotes the architecture with Gehry’s text that includes words like ‘movement,’ ‘humanity’ and ‘feeling.’ These all come with Gehry’s impromptu critical appraisal of the horrid glass boxes surrounding his $180 million dollar masterpiece. What might a world of Gehry’s pieces look like; feel like? What would a world of Gehry-mirrored staircases look like; feel like? Why has distortion and disruption, extreme difference, become an acceptable aesthetic today? The buildings look like bombed structures left by wars. Is there something in our culture that is being exposed here, or have we just run out of ideas; ambitions? Are we bored with ourselves and our world? Have we no dreams for our future?

Is this the art of war? Why have we become entranced with broken buildings? - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/new-gehry-projects-in-aleppo.html  Have we forgotten the morality and personal suffering in the lives behind these ‘interesting’ delights? – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/understanding-place-kobane.html  What might a world that thought and sought more of the wholeness of modest wonder be like, even if dealing in ‘paper bags’ that have not been crumpled, destroyed or distorted? Sadly the media is not interested in such questions. Only things shallow and immediate, flashy, with eye-and-attention-catching subjects are of any interest to today’s media that is always pushing on for the next attracting diversion, the alarming headline, never pausing to assess in any depth the things that it publicizes, pushes.

Gehry on The Simpsons being inspired by crumpled paper

One might make the parallel with Gaudi’s work, as the media has done. Surely Gaudi’s work must have looked just as startling to those of his era: but he was never alone, nor was his architecture random. He was working with issues that others were embracing and exploring in various fields of endeavour: think of Art Nouveau, the movement. There was something in the air that permeated the culture, some entrancing intellectual interest and depth in this work that instilled the integrity of nature, both as pattern and structure. Some of Gaudi’s buildings had strong political interests embodied in them as latent statements. But what is there in Gehry’s unique and quirky art? He makes buildings out of crumpled bags and pieces of paper, and boasts about it as though it was the best ever, better than all others that don’t. The media describes it as ‘bold,’ etc., positively, persuasively. It promotes Gehry in its brashly brave almost brainless manner: as good headlines. Perhaps Gehry’s PR feeds the beast? His office seems to be very self-conscious about its work and its reputation.

Why is it that one is reluctant to criticize this work? Why is one considered less because of such a stance? Does success ensure that the thrust of fashion and its agreeable numbers places all criticism on the other side of acceptability, to be ridiculed, dismissed; mocked as spiteful: to be doubted, questioned: “What’s your problem?” How can the Gehry machine be challenged? How can it be made to reflect, thoughtfully? It seems to be touching something in our society; something strange and worrying.

Gehry does try to suggest that his is a thinking, responsible art. He makes all the right noises. As he has stated, he wants to see the building in use before he can comment on it - but he does comment, and on others too. He wants to see how people invent ways to use his work. His response is promoted as being very adaptable, very considerate. The stance suggests a strategy of caring and responding to ordinary life; incorporating it and its whims. It imbues empathy; but where does this understanding come in the primal making and shaping, in the squashing of the bag? Why has the broken, deformed, wrecked, bombed image become the acceptable, the desirable aesthetic? Is it just because computers make it possible? Does the love lie in the technology that makes the apparently impossible achievable? It has been reported that Gehry sells his technology to others.

The big question is: does this work harden us to the suffering of others? Does it blind us to the hardships of ruined lives? Does it make selfish, indulgent monsters of us all? Does this work involve some narcissistic perversion that is encouraged and enhanced by social media and the Internet that constantly refer to ME? Have we become mere aesthetes standing aloof inside our rose garden surveying the world of ‘interesting’ form, wondering how we might make use of these ad hoc 'innovations'?

There are many questions. The images of bombed, wrecked buildings tell the story, one that started in Aleppo – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/new-gehry-projects-in-aleppo.html  Is this the art that seeks difference in extremes; diversity in the unexpected: art for the artist’s sake? Is this the art of war, the art that is the opposite of Paul Nash’s work that reveals the great horrors of war, its awful truths? Has the last century of great wars turned us into hollow, careless, unresponsive, unfeeling shells that look at outcomes visually, analytically, without ever contemplating the emotions and sufferings of others? Gehry may not be very helpful here. Where is the sympathy; compassion? Where is the love other than in the idea; the cheek; the surprise; the boldness eulogized by the media in its grabbing at alarming difference expressed in the multi-million dollar construction of bombed ruins? In its praise of managed chaos hyping the alarm of organised mess, all as seen in the adjacent reports on the latest war, does Gehry's work train us to overlook disasters and the horrors of war? Does it desensitize us?

Paintings by Paul Nash


'Stroke of genius'

Compare the building with the model below

A bombed building; not a Gehry.

 The fixed function of stairs is embellished in mirrors like a maze.

The necessary functions of the lecture theatre are hard to distort.

(not by Gehry)

Gehry's UTS Sydney

 This has not been bombed! It is a Gehry.

(not bombed or wrecked)

Model of UTS building

Frank Gehry's UTS Dr Chau Chak Wing Building opened: 'The most beautiful squashed brown paper bag ever seen'
February 3, 2015 – 6:36AM
Julie Power
Gehry opens UTS 'brown paper bag'
$180-million Frank Gehry-designed Dr Chau Chak Wing of the University of Technology is officially opened.

From little squiggles, big treehouses grow: Australia's first Frank Gehry building featuring many of the famous architect's signature curves and trademark wizardry has been opened by the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove. 
The idea for the $180 million Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) came to Gehry after a 2009 visit to see the old Dairy Farmers site in a grungy part of Ultimo. After a pizza with the business school's dean, the world famous architect whose physics defying buildings have turned rundown towns into tourist meccas scribbled a design for a treehouse shaped building with a central trunk with branches for learning and reflecting.
Stroke of genius: The quick sketch that arhitect Frank Gehry drew of the proposed UTS building in Ultimo. Photo: Louise Kennerley
"I'm Jewish so I feel guilty about everything. It takes me about two years to come around and I see all the things I want to change," Gehry said, reflecting on his work at the opening. 
"I'm pleased with it but I haven't seen it in operation yet, I haven't seen the kids here or witnessed the outlet being used. I'm hoping to do that and especially speak and meet the faculty today about ideas I have and to hear their thoughts about some of the spaces. It's open-ended and it hopefully gives them the spirit of invention.
"This building can and will be manipulated over time and will change as it's being used. People will invent ways to use it. The tendency to build buildings where everything is fixed for a fixed program is an obsolete notion."
The brick facade of the new UTS Gehry building Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Over the past five years Gehry's squiggle has been developed, expanded, tested and modelled in the architect's Californian headquarters, where as many as 150 wooden and paper models on different scales were built. The final models' curves and lines were then turned into 3D designs using software originally developed by aviation company Dassault Systèmes to build planes.
It has also helped the architect, who is struggling to overcome a reputation for projects that come in late and over budget, take on the dual role of architect and master builder to control costs and the process. Mr Gehry said the new business school came in on time and on budget. He later told the Herald that he'd promised the Chancellor Vicki Sara that it would come in within 10 per cent of the forecast. If it hadn't, he would have been obliged to pay for the cost overruns himself. "What if I hadn't? I would have had to cough up the remainder."
When the building appeared to lack something, Mr Gehry famously squeezed its middle, something that is reflected in the buckled waist of the structure's undulating walls comprising 320,000 bricks which were each laid by hand. It was this facade that created the biggest challenges, said Patrick Woods, UTS deputy vice chancellor (resources).
Frank Gehry's Dr Chau Chak Wing Building. Photo: Louise Kennerley
"The glass side had its challenges, but the bricks, we looked at it, and thought we have no idea how to do that," said Mr Woods. "It's trademark [Gehry]. He designs and then we work it out."  And making it work took multiple consulting firms, he said.
Construction began in November 2012, and by the end of this month more than 1630 business school students and staff will be bumping into each other in the trunk of the building - the stairs and other central areas are designed to encourage "water cooler" moments where students and staff from different disciplines are forced to cross paths. 
Instead of old-fashioned Harvard-style auditoriums and large offices dominated by faculty, the building encourages a more egalitarian and collegiate approach to learning. The two new oval-shaped classrooms encourage the lecturer to become part of the student body, while  the 120-seat style theatre is designed so that two rows of desks and chairs are on the same level to encourage students to work together in small groups.  Staff's offices are all the same, only 9 square metres. Organic pod-shaped small meeting areas branch out, encouraging students to meet on the real Herman Miller furniture (Gehry vetoed imitations) or stretch out on soft mats or in window nooks. 
The Gehry-designed building. Photo: Nic Walker
Describing his vision, Mr Gehry wrote to the dean of the business school Roy Green back in 2009: "Thinking of it as a tree house came tripping out of my head on the spur of the moment," he wrote. He wanted a growing learning organism with many branches of thought, some robust and some ephemeral and delicate, he wrote.
The design has been slammed by some, but the Governor-General described it as "the most beautiful squashed brown paper bag I've ever seen".
While a young student said it was a lovely place to be, a builder working on a nearby site wondered how many student buildings could have been built for the same price.
Frank Gehry's UTS Dr Chau Chak Wing Building opens
From little squiggles, big treehouses grow: Australia's first Frank Gehry building featuring many of the famous architect's signature curves and trademark wizardry has been opened by the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove.  Photo: James Brickwood

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