As you walk up the brown-tiled stairs and through the aluminium-framed, glass double-doors at 622 Harris Street you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped back in time.
The foyer is lined with mirrors and vintage glass cabinets filled with hand-crafted signs. Crocodile Dundee, Barratt’s Sweets, a doctor, a dentist - all are seeking to sell their services. Or they were, once upon a time.
Constructed in 1952, the four-storey heritage building originally housed the National Cash Register Company. Later, it became building U – home to TAFE’s signwriting students. Today, it’s UTS Building 15 – HQ for the Hatchery, the Design Innovation Research Centre (DIRC), the Innovation and Creative Intelligence Unit (ICIU), and a new way of thinking.
“Just as the cash registers moved onto computers, and signwriters went to digital art, we’re an evolution in thinking,” affirms Professor of Design and Innovation and Co-director of DIRC Sam Bucolo.
“Innovation is going to be fundamental for Australia’s prosperity. We’re shifting to a post-mining economy and that means we need to change the way we think.
“We need different products and services we can actually leverage in a global marketplace. The thing that’s going to block us the most is our thinking. So, for the university, our role is to build the capability to actually see opportunities differently, to put teams together differently and therefore innovate.
“What we do here is give people the tools, the processes, the experience, the freedom, to come up with new ideas and challenge some of the status quo.”
And what better place than in the city’s new knowledge hub – ‘the’ place for innovation and entrepreneurship in Sydney.
It’s an environment that Facilities Management Operations Manager of Projects Stewart Corner and Project Manager Tony Farrugia resolved to create during the building’s progressive upgrade.
“This is not one of our new, flashy, expensive buildings,” explains Corner. “The idea was to create a building that's slightly different, that had a feeling of innovation, of freshness.
“Our job is to create a physical environment which enables people to collaborate and create new ideas.”
To do this, Farrugia and his team worked with ICIU Community Manager Tida Tippapart to commission street art to adorn the Hatchery's interior. The FMO team also kept the building’s original, large, framed windows, retained old paint splatters on the floor and accentuated decades of exposed paint layered on concrete columns. “It’s all part of the building’s patina,” enthuses Corner. “We don't want to hide that”.
The best part, adds Farrugia, is that “because it's an existing building, it can accommodate units now; they don't have to wait for the building to go up.”
Already Building 15 has welcomed DIRC and ICI to level two and the Hatchery and a Microsoft sound studio to level one.
Currently, Farrugia is overseeing the installation of a new elevator on the building’s eastern side, which, with the recently-added accessible toilets and accessible entrance off Mary Ann Street, will help bring the 64-year-old structure up to meet the building code.
Likewise, a major refurbishment is planned for levels three and four, as well as the addition of more collaborative spaces on level one and the loading dock’s conversion into a sitting area (complete with large glass doors that will enable goods to come and go when needed).
“You couldn’t do this in many universities,” asserts Bucolo. “It's the Ultimo region that allows us to do this.
“Any innovation needs a good ecosystem – that’s why Silicon Valley is thriving; you feel it’s part of the DNA. Ultimo is getting that feeling – people aren’t here to shoot you down; they aren’t here to be nay-sayers. You’ve got the right mindset for people to encourage you, to push you forward and the networks to connect you.
“Australia has some real problems we need to be solving, and this is somewhere we can do it.”