WHEN NATURE RECLAIMS ARCHITECTURE

Exploring an abandoned place is always an unnerving experience, once grand places gone to seed create an unnerving aura when covered in cobwebs and no longer knee-deep in people. The University of Technology Sydney’s Kuring-gai Chase Campus is no exception, the brutalist campus all too capable of enveloping you in its unloved dystopian presence.

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Doors closed on the campus in late 2015, plans are in place to gentrify the centre into a primary school, but for now the campus sits un-loved and under-appreciated in the corner of Sydney’s north shore. I visited the campus recently, having heard tell of a gigantic brutalist castle tucked away in the bush I couldn’t stay away; armed with my camera, I ventured towards the design marvel. Arriving at the car park of an adjacent football pitch, visitors are greeted by a vast concrete overpass, flanked by tall sandstone walls supporting the complex overhead connecting one university wing to another, the synergy between organic sandstone and raw concrete is breathtakingly natural, begging the question of how the brutalist masterstroke spanning overhead could ever be considered ugly and unnatural. Strolling down the road spiralling right you’re greeted by the universities backdoor, above is a giant glass monolith spanning the 3 levels, framed by the campuses amazing vent-like slats adorning the buildings entire exterior.

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Back up past the overpass, through the overgrown trees is the campuses entrance, in front sits a large overgrown roundabout, the road covered in leaf litter. Drawing through the spider-web covered glass front doors into the vast interiors, the exoskeletal concrete structure continues inside, bringing brutalism inside, spaning the multi-level structure. UTS Kuring-gai is a labyrinth, a multi-pitched maze swathed in acid green carpet clashing wonderfully with the lollypop pink hand rails, looking like a glam rock band has detonated in the hallways.  

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The corridors are lined with stunning concrete curves and suspended spiral staircases, a joy to explore, especially when it’s all to yourself. Even on such a hot Aussie summers day, UTS stays cool, the air thick from the overgrown, mossy pond positioned to the left of the entrance. Peering up at the perforated concrete ceiling, it’s no doubt the building is still in perfect condition, ready to be used by thousands in but a moment. Strolling up the spiral staircases hugged by gorgeous concrete curves, overhead, jutting from the walls sit a trio of beautiful mid-century modernist tangerine lights. Like something straight out of A Clockwork Orange, its wonderful to see most of the lights still work, let alone the minimalist handing clocks, which still keep time to this day.

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Back outside the concrete castle, continuing past the main entrance and down a raw concrete staircase overdesigned within an inch of its life is the campuses car park, a long downward slope banking right, the overgrown gumtrees overhead shade the empty road. As the road continues it forks, on one side sits a steep loading dock, the other another entrance. Possibly the most complex example of brutalist architecture in Sydney, its near impossible to draw your eyes from this entrance. Flanked on one side by a tall raw concrete wall, the other a simply gorgeous tightly spiralled staircase, above are three balconies, all adorned with UTS Kuring-gai’s signature hanging slats. The staircase instantly draws your eye, from the road it appears as a large concrete cylinder at the top of a smaller staircase, though what sits inside is far more special. Walking up it is a joy, open at the top, light streams in from above bathing the cold, concrete tube in gorgeous sunlight, further bringing together nature and brutalism. Above, overgrown plants spill over the balconies, trailing down the vast concrete slats, reflected in the spider web covered glass doors. Further down is another of the universities many entrances, a long ramp leading to a small quadrangle surrounded with tall concrete walls lined in semicircular tubes pulls you in, even more cobweb covered glass showing off more of the buildings stunning interior.

To the left of the entrance is a bush track leading you around the back of the building. On one side sits another complex concrete and brick wall of the civic masterpiece, the other an endless chasm of thick Australian gums. Rather unnerving following the path, the only noise to be heard is the dry leaf litter crunching underfoot. Rounding another corner gives way to the buildings vast concrete radio tower overhead, underneath are views straight through the building to the loading dock. Unable to go any further around the campus, near the spiral staircases sit multiple cut out picnic spots, bright red futurist benches surround old rusty barbecues, a dead palm leaf fallen atop. 

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Exploring the UTS Kuring-gai Campus is a joy for any architecture tragic. A hidden gem of Australian brutalism tucked out of the way on the edge of the bush, the amount of detail and care taken to bring the surrounding natural landscape into the building is admirable, yet today somewhat pointless. Nature has reclaimed UTS Kuring-gai, having been left alone and unloved for two years, the surrounding bushland has enveloped the campus, though I think the architect, Ian Thomson, would be happy. Due to the campuses raw concrete heart, the building could be left a century, let alone a couple of years and still stand strong. Working so hard to bring the outside in to the wonderful building, nature has finally done so. UTS Kuring-gai Chase stands as a breathtaking example of nature reclaiming architecture.