UTS Thomas Street Building
Conceived as a garden sanctuary within a dense inner-city suburb, this joyfully crafted building offers respite from its tough surrounds.
Af Jennifer McMaster
Designed by Durbach Block Jaggers in collaboration with BVN Architecture, the UTS Thomas Street Building animates a back street in Sydney’s Ultimo. In direct counterpoint to its neighbors, the building adopts a gently undulating form. This is evident upon approach, as its façade is seen falling and curving along Thomas Street.
The entire building form is organic, soft and sculptural. The exterior warps and wavers, unfurling along its length. Human-scaled openings – two per floor – add further play to the surfaces. These are rimmed with colored reveals in bright shades of blue, green and yellow.
Durbach Block Jaggers’ building is home to the University of Technology’s Faculty of Science, providing the school with laboratories, consulting rooms, a lecture theatre, and spaces for teaching and research. The structure occupies five stories above the ground, and three stories below. Many of these spaces overlook the new Alumni Green, which receives ample sunlight as a direct consequence of the building’s low-rise form.
The UTS Thomas Street Building is supported on stocky, tapering legs, which resemble the columns at the Unité d’habitation in Marseilles. Further nods to Le Corbusier’s work can be seen at each entry point, with murals also paying homage to the architect’s work.
Walking inside the building, a series of complex interior spaces begin to unfold. Like much of Le Corbusier’s work, this is a building to be experienced as a continuous architectural promenade. Circulation is carefully composed, with moments of tightness and compression offset by spaces that open up and out. A particularly memorable mosaic-clad staircase sparkles and shimmers, wrapping visitors in its white whirl.
Throughout the building, the spaces are lit by a series of circular, tapering skylights. As with the external façade, their edges as lined with color, which spills beautiful washes of light down the walls.
Another moment of surprise comes while descending into the underground laboratories. The building plunges downwards, opening into a subterranean void that is ethereal and unexpected.
This wide, cavernous space is given further life by its surface treatment. The interior volume is lined with white and pastel-colored tiles, which are broken into fragments to form a continuous, irregular mosaic.
These are among the many playful touches that can be seen throughout the UTS Thomas Street Building. A lecture theatre is furnished entirely in green, with science beakers acting as custom-made light fixtures.
The construction throughout is refined and meticulous, with equal consideration given to spatial form and finely crafted detail. At times, surfaces appear carved, with sweeping scoops taken from the overall mass and then lined with glistening tiles. In other places, concrete folds out to form window reveals and seats. Light washes gently across all of these surfaces, illuminating subtle changes in tone and texture.
Across the UTS Thomas Street Building, there is a persistent sense of the architects’ hand, and imagination, at play. Thin steel handrails curve around corners, turning sinuously through space. Slender toothpick columns, which often appear in pairs, dot the building and form structural supports. At every turn, there is an element of craftsmanship and care rarely seen in an institutionalized building.
The UTS Thomas Street Building accommodates a highly technical brief with great artistic expression and precision. It is a unique and richly experiential work of architecture that speaks of Durbach Bloch Jaggers’ idiosyncratic, yet humane, approach to designing space.