All eyes on Broadway
The new UTS City Campus Master Plan is set to dramatically boost not only the wider Broadway precinct, but also create a dynamic and vibrant campus for students well into the future.
Expect a thrilling vista. The scene that drivers and pedestrians are set to enjoy as they progress along Sydney's Broadway in 2018 will be a far cry from the hodgepodge collection of buildings today. Travelling from the west towards the CBD will provide the best vantage of the spectacular results of a redevelopment program now underway at UTS.
The Broadway Building, with its tilted sculptural panels peppered with intricate binary coding, will present a striking gateway to inner-city Sydney. The podium forecourt extension further along Broadway will welcome people to the UTS precinct, softening the dominance of the existing UTS Tower. There will be other gems within the precinct, including the Alumni Green, the dramatic Dr Chau Chak Wing Building – the first in Australia designed by legendary North American architect Frank Gehry – and the underground Library Retrieval System.
All are elements of the City Campus Master Plan, an ambitious UTS building and redevelopment program. The University is investing $1 billion through the Master Plan, creating new buildings and revitalising others to increase and improve learning spaces while delivering a campus that promotes social engagement. The entire project is on track for completion in 2018.
"It's exciting because it builds a campus that everyone can be proud, where they can engage with each other, and where they want to come to," says UTS Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ross Milbourne. "That will be very uplifting for the spirit."
When completed, the Broadway Building will house the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology. The building itself will have 12 above-ground floor levels and four below. A crevasse – or linear atrium – will slice the internal building horizontally and vertically, opening the interior and allowing sight lines between floors, while large internal bridges will provide perfect congregation points.
The facade will capture the UTS technology brand, with skewed metal screens covering each side of the building and perforated with a pattern of '1s' and '0s' used in binary coding: a reworking of the binary sequence for 'University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology'.
"It brands the University in a very particular way – it says technology," Milbourne says. "It's going to be a defining characteristic not just for UTS but for this precinct and the City of Sydney. It's about the future, not the past."
The architectural firm behind the Broadway Building is Denton Corker Marshall, which won the job through a two-stage international design competition. Directors Ian White and Adrian FitzGerald say with just one more year of construction to go, the Broadway Building is set to revolutionise learning spaces in Australia.
On the outside, the practice has designed the binary screen to give the building expression and a sculptural appearance, with the binary code tying the project back to UTS.
You see a lot of screens on architecture nowadays and they're interesting, but little else," FitzGerald says. "We liked the idea of integrating an appropriate meaning into the screen pattern."
Additionally, he says, the designers were aware of large, strong apartment buildings currently being constructed across the road by Frasers Property, "so we had to come up with something that could stack up with the urban circumstance of Broadway". Inside the building, White notes, the crevasse will allow daylight to stream through and symbolically foster interaction.
"The design provides transparency, permeability and opportunities for interaction among all of the schools and research centres within the building."
Large lecture theatres will differ from traditional counterparts, with two rows of seating on each tier, allowing students to turn and face each other in the spirit of collaboration.
"UTS has been working hard over past years to introduce a collaborative teaching model that grew from Harvard's Project Zero, an educational research group dedicated to understanding and enhancing learning and thinking," White says. "This is the first campus building that fully embraces all of those principles in a technology-rich environment."
FitzGerald adds that the robust, warehouse-style interior of the Broadway Building, featuring concrete floors and no formal ceilings, will allow for fluidity of internal design arrangements as needs change. "That invites the occupants to do things to the spaces – we wouldn't mind if things get put on the walls. We think that's a healthy living and learning environment."
Michael Jessett, Manager of Delivery for UTS's Facilities Management team, says the Broadway Building is on target to be completed in the first quarter of 2014, with the striking façade to start appearing above the footpath in May this year.
"The binary screen, which gives that very distinctive look, has a function – to reduce the solar load on the building and it should do that effectively," he says, adding that the University is expecting some significant energy saving benefits as a result.
The building also has "a heck of a lot of technology up on the roof," Jessett says. "I've never been involved in a building that has as many initiatives all in one spot, with wind turbine technology, solar panel technology and solar trough technology linked to tri-gen power generators and chilling plants. That is highly innovative."
The largest building in the City Campus Master Plan, with a total gross floor area of about 44,000 square metres, the Broadway Building will also contain some other special features. Nigel Oliver, Director of the Program Management Office at UTS, says they include wireless sensors embedded in the concrete structure of the building; a data arena at ground level that can create specific environments for research; and recharging points for electric cars.
"This is future-proofing the building in the event that the motor industry does fully embrace electric cars as an option. So we can adapt the building to cater to an extent for the changing future."
Oliver says with one-third of the UTS staff and student population to eventually be located in the Broadway Building and nearby Building 10, this will shift the focus of the campus.
"That is good in a way because the Broadway Building overlooks the Alumni Green, which is itself the subject of fairly major upgrade works and will become the new greenhouse of the University," he says. "It's a very valuable green space which we're looking forward to enhancing and making it as attractive as possible as some quiet space for staff and students."
Bringing the City Campus Master Plan to life is a staged process and already some projects have been completed, including fit-outs of Building 10, the underground Multi-Purpose Sports Hall, the upgrade to the Great Hall and completion of Yura Mudang Student Housing. Projects under way are the Broadway Building; the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building; upgrades to Building 1 (the UTS Tower); the Alumni Green; the Thomas Street Building; and the Library Retrieval System. The latter will result in the library's 900,000-item physical collection being stored underground and retrieved as needed using a robotic crane. That system will be online from late next year.
The final piece of the Master Plan to be delivered by the end of 2018 will include relocating the UTS library to Building 2, along with the Building 1 and 2 podium extension that will transform the Broadway streetscape.
Jessett says construction has been designed to minimise disruption to normal university activities, and he acknowledges the patience of students and staff. "We try to do a short sharp burst of activity and then the butterfly appears from the chrysalis – they've got their new campus."
While many people believe the digital revolution and delivery of online university courses negate the need for attractive campuses, Milbourne thinks otherwise.
"Making a campus attractive and vibrant now is more important because you've got to have a way of getting people to want to come on campus and get an experience they could not get via online or distance delivery," he says. "My vision for UTS is a wonderfully vibrant campus of close to 40,000 people where you can walk from one end of the campus to the other in 10 minutes. That is unique in the world and it's going to be a great brand for UTS."
The project has not been without its challenges: among them, finding more than 100,000 square metres of extra usable space on an already constrained campus; converting rundown buildings into statement pieces; and moving the library – the social centre of the University – to the physical middle of the campus along with most other student-related activities.
However, operating from the belief that a great university does not have poor buildings, Milbourne says a working party spent three years examining every possible scenario for a future campus. One big advantage was the University's building and land holdings, which opened opportunities for repurposing and creating buildings to meet the Master Plan requirements.
"So we had one chance to think if you were planning the campus from scratch where would you put people and how would you put people together in the maximum synergies ... This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to plan this whole thing." Milbourne says the response to the Master Plan has been supportive from the City of Sydney, state government and the local community. "They like what we're doing in this space and are very keen to see it happen."
Seeing a number of projects already delivered is sparking excitement about the future UTS campus.
"Every time there's a new building or a new facility opening it gives you a sense of pride that you were part of that history," Milbourne says. "This program will be a legacy that will last many generations of students and staff."
Words Cameron Cooper
Images courtesy of UTS and Denton Corker Marshall