How to Make Brutalist Architecture a Little Less Cold

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Love it or hate it – the UTS Tower Building in Sydney is a Brutalist masterpiece. Once just 27 levels of cold, closed classrooms, Gardner Wetherill has been charged with reimagining its interiors as open, warm administrative workplaces.     


The UTS Tower building in Sydney’s now burgeoning university village has always stood in cold, stark contrast to the rest of the city skyline. Completed around the same time as the Sydney Opera House, the controversial Brutalist tower is famously disliked by Frank Ghery and often referred to as ‘the ugliest building in Sydney’, or ‘an architectural up yours to all things beautiful’.

As the surrounding area softens and blossoms in to one of the city’s distinctive cultural precincts – featuring Patrick Blanc’s vertical garden, The Old Clare Hotel, and the Kensington Street dining precinct – the Tower has only become more affectionately entrenched within the city’s design landscape. That said, UTS is working to at very least update and temper the austere façade

This upgrade project also includes a reimagining of the Tower’s interior – a level-by-level redesign, currently being completed by Gardner Wetherill Associates. We caught up with project architect Marc Oberhauser after the completion of Level 20 and 21, to discuss his design approach.


INTERFACE: The Tower is such a visible building, and so widely discussed, and eagerly criticised. What was the brief from UTS when it came to the interior?

 MARC OBERHAUSER: UTS has their own design guidelines, but the Tower is a little different – it has it’s own special guidelines. Inside there is a lot of beautiful exposed concrete, and this was something that we needed to maintain. What they wanted to achieve was a sense of uniformity throughout the levels. They needed to still differ, and to accommodate different usages too. So it depends which department moves into each space. For levels 20 and 21 there were a few smaller centres moving in, so we needed to develop interchanging styles.

The refurbishment strategy was to gather rooms around the central core; create open plan to the perimeter, and re-expose the building structure.


INTERFACE: So how did you go about softening the interiors?

 OBERHAUSER: There were quite a lot of darker, small classrooms. We went in and gutted the whole space to start again with a cold shell. Then, to really soften the space up, we used warm, nature-like materials. For example on level 21 we used lots of recycled timber cladding on the walls. Level 20 is slightly more refined, so we’ve used walnut veneer boards, mixed with copper, and white. There is also a green wall, which connects with the vertical garden at 1 Central Park across the street. It’s a really nice combination – the existing concrete details with the warm timber on the walls.

The  workspace is bright, open, transparent and dynamic, which encourages interaction and collaboration. Vistas from the lift lobby exploit North and South views and improved natural light of the floor.


INTERFACE: You chose to work with the Interface Human Nature range, which is an interesting contrast to the building’s Brutalist beginnings.

OBERHAUSER: We really wanted to use an organic style carpet, and so decided to use the HN 820 range. We liked this because it had a very natural stone-like aesthetic. We wanted to mimic the concrete ceiling, but also create a bit of interest and softness with the herringbone pattern. The carpet really brings a sense of warmth to the offices, and at the same time is reminiscent of nature.

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All Photography  Murry Harris Photography.


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