Jesse Adams Stein March 01, 2013
'The ugliest building in Sydney' ... the UTS building. Photo: Quentin Jones
Widely regarded as the ''ugliest building in Sydney'', the UTS tower is usually the subject of derision and complaint. It's the ungainly middle finger on Broadway, evidence that modernist architects in the 1960s were out of touch with humanity, complicit in an architectural ''up yours'' to all things beautiful.
But is it all that bad? I might be alone here, but I rather like the UTS tower. I may even go so far as to say I love it.
Designed in 1964 by the NSW Government Architects Office, it was intended as a suite of seven towers, for the then NSW Institute of Technology. The plan was reduced to three, and in the end to a single tower of 27 storeys, with a truncated second building beside it. The tower and its chunky little brother are bound together by a podium, and together these structures are a significant example of brutalist modernism in Sydney. That fact alone makes them architecturally meaningful, but there is more to be valued here than architectural history.
The carefully wrought Jenga-like stacks of the tower give it more of a horizontal emphasis than a vertical one, despite the fact that it is a tall building. Then there are those smooth corners - the doorways and windows are accented by satisfying rounded edges.
But it is within the tower's surprisingly grand interior that the building really excels. As you move through the foyer, you can palpably experience the spatial contrasts: low, compressed ceilings open up to a cavernous foyer. The quality of the light shifts from dark, uncomfortable corridors, into brighter spaces, with square skylights illuminating the space. The air is cool and smells a little stony. It feels monumental in a secular, academic sort of way, making the design oddly appropriate for its function.
A common criticism of the tower was that its design deliberately discouraged congregations of protesting students. Although there is no proof this was part of the architectural agenda, an office block has never facilitated campus socialising (of any sort) very well, and ironically this is something that UTS is now spending a lot of money attempting to redress.
The most dysfunctional aspects of the tower building have lately been improved upon. UTS's city campus master plan has included a major transformation of the podium. Although UTS has confirmed that there are no plans to transform the exterior any time soon, the interior will be upgraded.
For mid-century purists like me, this means sacrificing some of the most lovably offensive modernist interior detailing, but most will probably see these improvements in a positive light.
After all, the best aspects of modernist architecture involve adaptation over time.
These days, the UTS tower has a new next-door neighbour: One Central Park, the tallest building in the Frasers Property development at the old Carlton & United brewery site. The towers are roughly the same height.
The presence of this new tower has transformed Broadway's architectural hand gesture from a one-fingered one into a two-fingered one, perhaps with a similar message.
Jesse Adams Stein is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at UTS.