Gehry Partners UTS Staircase: An Insight Into The Design And Fabrication


Transcending the barrier between art and architecture, architect Frank Gehry is globally renowned for his ambitious, often controversial designs. The first Australian building designed by Gehry, the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), typifies the architect’s signature sculptural structures.

Tasked with an exciting challenge to explore and develop fabrication methods for an internal architectural feature for the building’s interior, the UAP team worked with Gehry Partners and Lend Lease to create its ‘crumpled mirrored staircase’. UAP Lead Designer, Giovanni Veronesi, has over 10 years’ experience working on complex architectural forms and was pivotal in the realisation of this work.

How did you approach progressing Gehry’s design into a buildable form?

Frank Gehry’s iconic sculptural approach to architecture defies conventional methods of construction. UAP was required to develop the design so that the complex geometry was buildable, combining advanced digital design and traditional fabrication techniques.

As part of the design and documentation team on the project, we created a 3D model which enabled us to easily manipulate and adjust Gehry’s design. We were able to test different detailing and optimisation solutions for the double curvature surfaces, allowing us to extract geometry for fabrication. A key tool for the delivery was the 3D printed model we produced, which was an essential visual aid, bridging the information contained in our drawings to the fabricated forms.


What was the next step towards delivering this project?

We fabricated a prototype in the Brisbane workshop to provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to give feedback. A prototype is one of the greatest communication tools, especially for the bespoke work we do at UAP – most of the work we fabricate has not been done before.

Having a physical representation meant we could test our assumptions. We examined the compound curves and sharp corners, resolving the issue of how two sections join and how these faces intersect.

The mirrored polished stainless steel is a difficult finish to achieve, so the prototype also demonstrated how long it would take to get the required level of finish. Ultimately, to optimise surface quality, we wanted to ensure we maximised the number of uninterrupted surfaces and all the welds were confined to edges. Overall, producing a prototype gave clarity to the desired outcome, both internally and for Gehry Partners and Lend Lease.

How did you overcome the challenges of manufacturing this complex form?

It was important we worked to the site’s constraints, fitting the stainless-steel cladding to the concrete staircase and adhering to the slab-to-slab conditions. A laser scan provided us with these parameters, and allowed us to design and coordinate the concealed internal metal structure that structurally supports the sculptural balustrade designed by Gehry Partners. The work was fabricated in our Shanghai workshop, and each panel of cladding was fabricated and machined to achieve the complex, compound curvature – the skill of the artisan was crucial. Separating the structure into 30 individual, unique segments enabled ease of international freight and handling onsite for the installation team.

Learn more about how UAP deliver complex projects by contacting our  New Business Team for a Knowledge Sharing Session

Images: Peter Bennetts (building hero) & Roger D’Souza (sample & staricase hero)