Archive 2011

UTS Zunz Lecture: Do Great Buildings Make Great Cities


Do great buildings make great cities? Sydney is a city with its share of great buildings. While a Sydney Opera House or Harbour Bridge are glorious ambassadors for their city; what is their impact on the life of the place and the people?

Emerging world cities compete to create their own ‘starchitect-designed' masterpieces and become the next beneficiaries of the Bilbao effect. Yet, increasingly complex factors go towards making a great city; encompassing everything from infrastructure and sustainability to human behaviour.

Can there truly be a balance between great buildings and the needs of local people and the wider city? Or are architects, planners, politicians and citizens arguing for a perfect solution that doesn't exist?

Presented by the Sydney Opera House, broadcaster and host of SBS TV's Insight, Jenny Brockie, will Chair a distinguished panel featuring Dr Elizabeth Farrelly, The Hon Nick Greiner, Graham Jahn and Professor Stuart White.  This is the 10th Anniversary special Zunz Lecture established by UTS in 2001.  It will be held on 15 December at 7pm in the Drama Theature.

Click here for booking and further information.

Short Black Talk - 1 Bligh Street


2011 sees the revival of the Australian Architecture Association's (AAA) Short Black: Architects in Their Space, series of talks. The first building to be featured in the new program was the commercial office building, 1 Bligh, presented on Wednesday 26 October.

Designed by the Sydney architecture practice Architectus, in association with the German architect Christoph Ingenhoven, 1 Bligh is Sydney's newest edition to a growing generation of commercial high rise buildings achieving 6 Star Green Star and 5 star NABERS ratings.

1111e9The Short Black talk was proudly hosted in the top floor commercial space, by the buildings co-owners DEXUS Property Group / DEXUS Wholesale Property Fund & Cbus Property. Attendees were treated to outstanding views of the city and harbour, while the building was presented by two speakers, Tony Gulliver, Head of Development and Trading for Dexus Property Group and Ray Brown, Director of Architectus.

Introduced by Ray Brown, Tony Gulliver briefly highlighted how astute property investment and development can create well designed sustainable buildings that add value to the city's commercial landscape. He explained how enlightened developers can utilise a selective brief, to ensure a building is environmentally responsible, while still achieving desirable commercial space within budgetary constraints.

Ray Brown then proceeded to give an insight into the design process involved in the collaboration between their office and Ingenhoven Architects. It was fascinating to see how considerations of the site's shape, position, views, orientation and environmental considerations contributed to the final elliptical building, that encloses 27 levels of commercial space.

Attendees were then guided through a few floors of the building, viewing break out spaces, ancillary spaces and service spaces (which included bathrooms with outstanding views!). The tour of the building ended viewing the building ‘in the round' at ground and platform level where a lush green wall at the rear of the site, shields views of services equipment. Participants were then invited to enjoy a drink and bites at The Bligh bar, for a chance to disseminate their experience of the building.

- Vanessa Couzens


(Photos by Vanessa Couzens & Vincent Lam)

Travel Snapshots - San Francisco MOMA

1111d1The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is exemplary of Postmodernist architecture. Postmodernism developed as a movement during the late 1970's, out of a reassurgence in architectural history programs in university faculties and as a reaction against the minimalism and lack of ornamentation of Modernism, a style made popular by the German school the Bauhaus (1919-1933) and De Stijl the Dutch artistic movement founded in 1917. Postmodernism continues to influence present day architecture, drawing influences from and referencing historical architectural styles.

Completed in 1995, the SFMOMA building was designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta (b.1943). In the architectural field, Botta is regarded as an artisan of brick and stone. His ideas about architecture are heavily influenced by his former teacher, Italian Architect, Carlo Scarpa and through his brief employment in the architectural practices of the French architect Le Corbusier and American architect Louis Kahn.

SFMOMA is a typical example of Mario Botta's architecture. It's form is monumental and monolithic. The five storey, heavy looking structure, is framed in steel with a stepped and patterned brick façade and a central turret faced in black and white stone. The turret houses a full height central atrium court, with an expansive circular skylight, which floods the ground floor entry with natural light.

Unlike the quintessential dark and segmented museum, the entry court is a highly activated space, full of the bustle of visitors and acting as the central point of circulation through the building. The architect has described the atrium space as "the center of spatial gravity for the entire museum." Gallery spaces are protected from direct light, yet always linked to spaces such as stairs or corridors, that bring in natural light and allow views to the surrounding cityscape.


View up towards the fifth floor atrium truss walkway (Photo by Vanessa Couzens)

The 225,000-square-foot museum consists of 65,000 square feet of galleries including the 14,400-square-foot Rooftop Garden. Visitors spiral up the levels of the building to the fifth level where they traverse a dramatic steel truss bridge over the atrium to reach the light filled museum café, which views on one side across the cityscape and on the opposite side, across the sculpture court. While eating art inspired cakes decorated to match a Mondrian painting, or shaped to match the Ellsworth Kelly sculpture in the adjoining garden, French sculptor Louise Bourgeois' spider-like pieces called ‘The Nest' (1994) perch between the tables, as if ready to snatch your leftovers!

SFMOMA is a building that imbues a sense of wellbeing on it's visitors. The success of the building as a museum can be attested to by current plans to expand. Norwegian architectural firm, Snohetta have been commissioned to design extensions that will house approximately 100,000 square feet of additional gallery and public space as well as approximately 60,000 square feet of support space, including larger and more advanced conservation facilities and an expanded library. Full schematic plans are expected to be completed before the end of the year.


SFMOMA rooftop sculpture garden, café treats - art never tasted so good! (Photo by Vanessa Couzens)

Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania


Situated 12km north of Hobart, on a peninsula jutting into the Derwent River, is Tasmania's controversial contribution to the Arts, MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art). MONA is Australia's version of the Saatchi gallery, another privately owned collection, which can be visited in London. The museum showcases owner, David Walsh's passion for contemporary art and mixes it up with his impressive collection of antiquities.

The collection of over 2000 art works and artifacts, was funded through a combination of riches accrued through his career as a professional gambler, the mercy of rich friends and the reluctant sale of pieces of his pre-existing art collection, such as John Brack's "the Bar" which was sold to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in 2009 for $3.2 million.

1111c2If you were to describe David Walsh as an eccentric, you would definitely be right. At his fiftieth birthday party this year, his caterers served deserts shaped like vaginas, molded from some of the women of his acquaintance! In fact, one of the first pieces you encounter within the museum, is a corridor of 150 porcelain vagina sculptures by Greg Taylor called "C--ts and Other Conversations". This exhibit is exemplary of the collector's ambition to confront and challenge the viewer with his eclectic and very astute collection of works.

Walsh's collection, valued at over $100 million, is housed within a 9500sqm space designed by Nonda Katsalidis, of the Melbourne based architectural firm Katsalidis Fender Mirams. Opened in 2011, much of the building is buried within the sandstone peninsula, with the exposed exterior faces clad in concrete and Corten steel panels.

Ascending the stairs from the ferry jetty, the visitor is first met by the incongruous vision of a tennis court, with a life size steel lacework truck beyond. This first impression hints at what will become for the visitor an experience that will confound their expectations of how a museum should be arranged.

1111c3For those who rely on guided tours and interpretative labels, be prepared for disappointment! There are no maps, no labels and no chronological ordering of work. In fact this is part of the pleasure of a visit to MONA. You are able to view the works without preconceived notions, reject what you don't like and discover information on what appeals to you through the iphones handed out to you at the beginning of your visit. You can even select the art works that speak to your sensibilities and email a list to your email address for later digestion.

The eccentric arrangement of the collection is reflected in the architectural arrangement of the spaces. Entry to the museum is through the restored 1958 cottage, designed by architect Roy Grounds. The entrance façade has been fitted with warped mirrors that distort reflections like the mirrored mazes in a carnival. Staff greet visitors inside by handing out iphones that sense the location of the visitor and provide information about the artworks and artifacts, upon demand. Patrons are then funneled underground, down a narrow circular shaft via a glass lift or enclosing circular stairwell.

1111c4To build the museum over 35,000 cubic metres of stone and earth had to be removed from the hillside. This hollowed out space has the atmosphere of a soaring cave, or the dark gothic cathedral. The architect has stayed true to the nature of the site, exposing 14m high sandstone cliffs and making a feature of the concrete reinforcement and coffered concrete ceilings.

Circulation throughout the museum is just as chaotic as the arrangement of the collection, with the visitor never quite aware of where they are and how they should walk through the spaces. Overhead walkways, voids through the three levels and a deconstructed industrial staircase in the centre, reinforce the interconnectedness of the three internal levels.

MONA is a feast for the senses, providing a rewarding and at times uncomfortable experience. It challenges our conditioned expectations of what constitutes a museum. With his eclectic collection of cultural artifacts, David Walsh has created what should appeal to both the purveyor of antiquities, or to the contemporary art enthusiast. If you are a planning a visit to Hobart, this is a tourist attraction not to be missed.

- Ptotos & text by Vanessa Couzens


Featured Project - Flip Flop House


Architect: Crosby Architects

Crosby Architects in association with Lifehouse Design recently won the inaugural Building Designers Association of Victoria (BDAV) 10 Star Challenge.

The Flip Flop House will require no energy to heat or cool during normal day to day use throughout the year. The 10 Stars rating was awarded by the judges who found that installation of a solar power system will "flip" its energy bill upside down.

The house is designed on a modular system to reduce waste during construction. Standard building industry techniques are used along with commonly available materials to encourage use by the mass housing market. It is shaped to use as few materials as possible with their selection based on their sustainability credentials.

The house is also designed to satisfy different family requirements over its life; from parent retreat/home office at the front, kids at the back to granny flat at the rear, teenage apartment at the front, to a separate tenant at the front.


The designers say the front and back can flip in use over time to sustain the building well into the future. It is also designed to enlarge with the extension of the first floor if needed.

The Building designers Association of Victoria stated: Lifehouse Design in collaboration with Crosby Architects and Lewin Consulting have ‘ticked the boxes' and given us a sophisticated, simple, elegant, house with a two-storey component. The modular wall treatments would facilitate minimisation of construction material waste and reduction of inefficient site labour process.