Gehry competes with ghosts for architectural vision

THE $150 million landmark building by the internationally acclaimed architect, Frank Gehry, will be an evocative blur for most Sydneysiders.

The open harbour approach was already taken by Joern Utzon for his Sydney Opera House, perched atop its Bennelong Point pedestal.

Instead, the Los Angeles architect, described as the most significant of the age, is working within twisted alleys and streets laid out in convict-era Sydney.

Mr Gehry said his vision for the UTS business school building, unveiled yesterday, was embedded in the streetscape. Its power would pulsate through the crowded inner city, offering people passing by ''fascinating vignettes''.

Standing before models of his building, Mr Gehry said competitive juices had fired the ambition for this project. Asked who he was competing against at age 81, he replied, half joking: ''Ghosts.''

Ghosts like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, whose sculptures inspired the folds of undulating brickwork that form one of the two distinct facades of his building.

Later in his speech at the unveiling of the building, Mr Gehry referred to it as ''wrinkly''.

The other facade, a collection of angled sheets of glass, presents a fractured view of the urban sandstone and brick heritage built by people long gone.

Utzon's masterpiece beckons across the city, of course.

''[Architecture is] in my DNA; I can't stop,'' Mr Gehry said.

''The architect Philip Johnson lived to 98 or 99. He told all of his kids, of which I was one, to never stop. It will keep you going. And it's true.

''Even though the travel is difficult on an old body, it's so energising and inspiring once you hop off the plane.

''It's wonderful: I even went to Bono's concert [the U2 lead singer's extravaganza at Homebush] after arriving.''

Mr Gehry described the building's internal structure as being like a ''tree house'', generating a sense of ''creative play''.

It will be named the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, after the Australian-Chinese business leader who has donated $25 million for the project.

That equals the biggest single donation by any individual to an Australian university, UTS says.

The building will be on the corner of Omnibus Lane and Ultimo Road, Ultimo, on a small block of land most recently used as a car park.

The building is part of a 10-year, $1 billion development of the UTS campus.

The university plans other new buildings, upgrades of existing ones and better pedestrian connections.

The vice-chancellor, Ross Milbourne, described Mr Gehry as a ''creative genius''. ''This building stands as an example, right in the centre, of what we are trying to create,'' he said.

On Sydney's architecture as a whole, Mr Gehry said: ''I think it's like every other city in the world - there's some good buildings; a lot of mostly mediocrity.''

$150m Total value

16,000 Total floor area in square metres across 11 floors

2012 Construction starts, to be completed by 2014 academic year