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Art and Science: Urban Future

Art and science are commonly considered to be opposing subjects within the intellectual sphere, but in the case of architecture, they are perfectly symbiotic. As architectural excellence can only be achieved with the full realisation of both the creative and the pragmatic, its makers have been gifted with a rare combination of the best from both sides of the brain. Sydney’s division of the world-renowned Urban Future Organisation (UFO) are a collective of individuals who not only possess the skills necessary for their profession, but have risen through the ranks within it as well. Describing themselves as architects who “seek to share common design strategies in practice and academia with an emphasis on contemporary digital techniques”, UFO are responsible for some of the most incredible maneuvers with space that have been devised in modern day design. We spoke to directors Dirk Anderson and Eduardo de Oliveira Barata, and later asked them to give us a rundown of their five favourite projects under UFO to date.

We worked together on the documentation, fabrication and site construction of Nested House, so this one’s probably a favourite. The dwelling was originally a one bedroom terrace which we proposed a nested object within a box (similar to the musical instrument case analogy).

The Sydney division of UFO has spent the last couple years since its conception building up a network for projects. “We’re still developing a majority of residential properties, although the last year there’s been an increasing number of commercial and hospitality projects,” explains Dirk. “We feel that attempting a range of scale and project typology along with our continuing academic research maintains innovation in design.” Such academic research is central to their design philosophy, which is “to evolve rather than refine” – Dirk started spending more time with UFO after he took up a research position at UTS, and UFO currently runs a masters studio at University of Sydney.

But before UFO was, of course, the art. Both Dirk and Eduardo were interested in design at school, and eventually started studying architecture at university. Both Dirk and Eduardo spent time with UFO in London before taking it to Australia, and were influenced by various factors during their studies and travels. For Eduardo, it was the locations of his projects which honed his design aesthetic most. “For both my Diploma and MA projects, I spent a lot of time in southern Sicily around Mount Etna where I was dealing with extreme landscapes, climate and a variety of socio-economic issues,” he says. “The area has a long history of love and hate with the volcano which brings with it as much wealth as destruction. I found it fascinating working somewhere which is constantly at the mercy of such an unpredictable landscape formation.”

This was our first project together as UFO(au): A Virgin Gym interior within a 6 level, 8000sqm heritage building. The existing building is an incredibly austere building with beautiful ironwork and 4m high ceilings. We wanted to design the floor layout without partitioning to express the continuity of space so we were interested in the notion of the internal landscape. Through a series of VB scripted investigations, we developed a pseudo physics system that would simulate sand dune flows – in turn resulting as a number of ephemeral spatial zones.

As part of our academic pursuit and design philosophy, we are interested in architectural mediation of conditions in extreme environments, with reference to climate change. The Aero Pre-Fab Housing prototype explores the scenario of increasing frequency and severity of wind driven catastrophes. The aerodynamic shotgun house is raised above the ground to limit exposure to flooding, and shaped to maximize wind flow. The bone-like external skeleton gives the surface of the house a dimpled effect, further reducing the wind drag effect. The skin is structural (semi-stressed skin) in order to prevent deformation of the aerodynamic surface. The building is constructed from plastics ; fibreglass, and takes advantage of the mass production and customization technologies of the manufacturing industry.

For Dirk, working with Tom Kovac presented him with an acute interest in a complexity of space. “The whole contemporary scene in the late 90s was really amazing – a new wave of expressionism through digital techniques (design and fabrication) meant that there was no longer prescriptions to produce standardised modernist volumes – a direct relationship to the tools that were available at the time.”

After five London winters at the end of 2005, Dirk decided to make the move to Sydney. “I became pretty excited about trying to build a niche within the industry here with regard to digital design and non-standard architecture,” he reflects. And then in late 2009, he recruited Eduardo (who he knew from his London days) to expand the Sydney studio. Dirk explains that heading up UFO Australia has “proven to be immense learning curve of how to run a practice with respect to clients; authorities; builders and management” but their innovation within Sydney is simultaneously evident and indispensable. “Like most cities there are some incredible buildings and neighbourhoods and others that you wish you could tear down and start again from scratch,” explains Eduardo. “The type of work that we are interested in producing is still quite a niche market in Sydney and I think this is because the city is quite conservative in its approach. You look at any Sydney based architecture or design magazine and the promotion of clean cut modernism is still dominate.” Dirk continues, “there’s always been beautiful work coming out of Sydney – although not that formally interesting, its primary concern is with materialism; detail and siting.”

The geometrically innovative and abstract aesthetic of UFO has already made its mark within the city, in projects such as Fold Apartment in Double Bay, Peripheral Sydney in Kenthurst and Zip Terraces in Botany. As they continue to work locally and throughout the world, UFO is proving that despite the seemingly repetitive movements within modern day space, the potential for architecture’s future is huge.

This proposal for Shifted Space was for a second level addition to a 4-bedroom Californian bungalow and is situated in the eastern suburbs with a prime view of the harbour bridge and city CBD. the scheme sought to capture the vista through a modulation of the internal spatial configuration - a simple fold and shift in the roof structure provides variation in the upper volume, opening the northern end whilst framing the view from the southern lounge area. Eduardo did a pretty amazing job to detail through the Construction Certificate stage. We’re very excited to see the project take shape over the next few months, as the construction has just started.

Casa Francesco was a project that was developed whilst living in Sicily and is located in the hills above Milazzo with a vista across the Mediterranean to the Aeolian Islands. As a direct reading of the striated terraced landscape throughout the region, the design seeks to enclose the entire program of the house in a singular folded band via one continuous loop. The ground level encapsulates garage, kitchen & lounge whilst the upper contains entry, bedrooms, study and amenities. The formal entry to the house is located on the terraced upper level which flows down to the lower living area and pool deck.

words: Seema Duggal


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