Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Sydney Gehry Building Needs Anti-glare Treatment

On my way to an educational technology meeting in Sydney this afternoon, I passed the newly opened UTS Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by Frank Gehry. This is an impressive architectural statement, but has a glare problem which makes it unsafe and needs urgent remedial work.

The building has windows with a reflective coating (presumably to cut down heat load). Unfortunately some of these windows are angled up about ten degrees from the vertical. The result was glare and heating of the surrounding area on the north western side of the building at about 5:30pm. The area subject to glare includes a public road, which would be dangerous to drive on.

Gehry's Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles experienced similar glare problems, which were solved by making some surfaces non-polished, to diffuse the light. Something similar needs to be done urgently for the Sydney building. It might be possible to apply a microscopic layer of retroreflectors to the windows, or small strip mirrors, which would direct the sunlight back up, rather than down. As well as removing the glare, this would also cool the area.

Given that a Gehry building has had problems with reflections in the past it is surprising that the design team did not carry out a study of this before the building was built (as was called for by Elizabeth Valmont, University of Southern California, in 2005). CAD software could be used to predict reflections from buildings.

The University of Technology Sydney teaches architecture, design and engineering. It is surprising that none of the professional staff of the university on the panel reviewing the building design asked about the know glare problem with Gehry buildings.

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