Our muscular approach addresses the context on its own terms and thus claims a place for UTS at this gateway site. Both a unique marker on the journey into the city and a specific object which identifies a new presence at the UTS campus, the building via its specificity speaks of the particular expertise and opportunities of this institution. The uncanny, taught character of the building evokes a sense of wonder and in doing so alerts us to the potential for this institution if it meets the challenge of moving forward on its own terms.
The project is explained in detail below.
The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) occupies a difficult wedge of the city where the privilege of proximity is countered by a fragmented and constrained campus jammed in-between (and straddling) every arterial route to the immediate south-west of the city. The constrictions of these arterial roads have resulted in the gradual expansion of a guerrilla network of pedestrian links from the city to the site and which then persists throughout the site via a range of improvised connections between buildings. This morphology provides a spatial diagram with particular characteristics (which in turn is embedded in the spatial intelligence of UTS students) from which to develop responses to the brief for a gateway project.
This sits in stark contrast to the classical campus model focused on a central green surrounded by well-mannered buildings which complete axes, define boundaries and present a very particular public face to the institution. At UTS, the guerrilla occupation of buildings and circulation between them speaks of a more vibrant, opportunistic and highly tactical mode of engagement with the city. Most critically, the campus brushes up against the city for much of its surface area thus presenting to the city a range of opportunities to engage with the campus.
The site is pressed hard to the south-west corner of the site and is thus bounded by two of the more dominant arterial roads, Broadway and Wattle Street, from which traffic continues to the city centre or diverts toward Anzac Bridge to the west. Pedestrian activity at this corner is focused on the rush to refuge within the campus proper while vehicular movement is intense as the various road intersections are negotiated. Thus, visual registration of the site occurs via peripheral glances, never revealed as a long view or over a long time. The site marks both a point of entry but is also a form of bumper or guard which engages with the abrasive nature of Broadway and protects the campus space beyond.
These abrasive conditions call for a robust response, addressing the situation as a challenge to be answered with bravery and confidence. A unique and condition-specific response is necessary given these circumstances and offers the best opportunity of uniquely signposting the university.
The circulation in and around the campus can be mapped as a viral circumstance replete with multiple pathways via which the rush of students into and out of the campus can occur in relative safety. Abandoned car-parks, aerial bridges, internal circulation of peripheral buildings – all are cannibalised in the deployment of the student population throughout the campus. At this site, the viral condition has a particularity given its adjacency to building 10 which it will extend, the student housing, the Clare, the proposed University Green and the main tower and library.
The ground level at the site is therefore a key moment in the urban engagement of the campus given the intersection of numerous pathways at this point. We have envisaged this zone as a router, negotiating the multiple pathways and trajectories at this point and enabling various distribution options to and from the campus. Both a metaphor for this circulation and the IT capability above it, the router is a knotted and multiple-sided circulation system with neither an inner nor outer but rather which grades levels of engagement or refuge with Broadway and the campus. The router is a transitional space between the architecture of the road and campus, a hinge between the circulation of the freeway and that of the student.
A new campus model
A major role of the router is the distribution of students into the new Gateway building above. Ramped and vertical (lift) circulation are spliced to the router and thus become some of the numerous onward circulation options present at the site. Thus circulation provides the basis for the new building and thus marks a departure from typical institution-building but which shocks not due to its difference but with the inevitability of the solution given the morphology of the existing campus.
University campus management is notoriously difficult given the regular and persistent way in which faculty areas are restructured, re-defined and ultimately relocated. Purpose-built faculty buildings often change ownership years after their completion and in recent Australian history entire new campus buildings have been constructed not before the original client has been vaporised by a university restructure. Thus the important understanding here is the need for robust spatial types that can be reconfigured but which in doing so retain their sense of place and purpose within the campus. Following this logic, the campus masterplan should not be a diagram showing faculty locations but one which shows the location of spatial types to effect the campus with calculated intent.
This solution proposes a giant habitable circulation system, recalling the work of Virilio and Parent which sought to establish a new urban order in response to the established horizontal village and vertical city types. This habitable circulation thus amplifies the core characteristic of the campus and with this conflation makes it a sign for the university itself. A piece of educational infrastructure, the project mediates between human and road/city scale and in doing so clearly identifies UTS as the most urbane of campus types and which takes on its identity with pride and force. The circulation vectors throughout the site are thus registered here in physical form and with this the opportunities for true creativity and innovation emerge. Anecdotal and recorded evidence of the value of these circulation space as places which encourage innovation, discussion, debate, chance meetings and unlikely collaborations is bought here to the fore and given full potential in the urban-scaled corridors and pathways that form this new building.
By dividing the building into flat and ramped components, specific and focused functions can co-exist adjacent to large laboratory zones which regularly change in format to suit current requirements. Thus only the very specific (service cores, minimum required teaching and office infrastructure) is located permanently while the remainder of the building is a giant field to be occupied as required. Initial testing show that numerous configurations will be possible, accommodating both currently envisaged and future unknown building use patterns.
The space between the router and habitable circulation houses a protected zone where the data theatre is located. By locating the data theatre at the nexus of the scheme its centrality and importance are signified while in practical terms it becomes an integral part of every visit to or through the site. The soft space of the data theatre works as a contrast in the belly of this urban response – a place of refuge and of engagement with the activities of the building and UTS as a whole.
The opportunities offered by this space are numerous and as such can accommodate any possible sense of what the data theatre might be as it becomes clearer in future development work.
This configuration of habitable circulation results in a building form which is both muscular and indeterminate. Broadway receives not a classical urban marker but rather an oscillating concrete and digital mirage – a space which in its indeterminacy resides potentiality for numerous occupations and readings.
The folding of the habitable circulation in and around the site creates a facade engaged between the inner and outer as the orientation of the circulation changes. The spaces between the circulation elements themselves provide opportunities for glazing and/or digital information to be displayed. The extent to which the facade is clad with digital interfaces can change over time without the image of the building being compromised. Rather, this proposal offers infinite virtual possibilities for the final project both between now and construction and over its life as a sentinel and within the city.
The building form is most firmly a sign of UTS and its particular mode of occupying the city and the potential for this mode to inform innovative teaching practices and research output. Beyond that, opportunities for light, ventilation, sustainability initiatives such as PV cells and digital interface all exist in a constellation of possibilities – of which one or all can be implemented without compromising the building and the signals it sends to the city and to other institutions nationally.