The LAVA model is significant as an artefact of the potential of high-tech building facades, especially as a means to recycle and improve existing buildings. It is also significant for its prominence in contemporary debates about the value of classic tower formats and the more efficient and sustainable possibilities now being created.
LAVA's proposal to re-skin the UTS Tower began in 2009 as a speculative idea. Because of the landmark status of this 1970s building and the potential of the proposal for similar towers it gained extraordinary media and professional attention in Sydney and elsewhere.
In 2010 the proposal won a prize for speculative design at the World Urban Forum in Rio. London's Independent newspaper (21 April 2010) described the LAVA proposal as 'condom architecture' for creating the potential to humanise and reinvent existing tower buildings. In this respect the LAVA proposal went beyond the developing trend towards expressive synthetic building facades. This trend has been particularly evident in the work of prominent Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, notably their Allianz Stadium, Munich (2006) and the Prada Tower, Tokyo (2003)
Re-skinning creates the potential to re-purpose inefficient or outdated buildings as an alternative to demolition or major rebuilding. Instead LAVA proposed a comparatively inexpensive and easily constructed building skin that can potentially transform the identity, sustainability and interior comfort of an existing structure.
The translucent mesh tower skin is designed to act as a high performance micro climate, generating energy with photo-voltaic cells, collecting rain water and using convective energy to power the towers' ventilation requirements. As well as creating a more efficient and sustainable building the skin would transform the appearance of the tower in daylight as well as using LED inserts to become a changing media surface at night.
Chris Bosse has argued for his design primarily on sustainability grounds: 'I wouldn't agree with calling any building ugly … but I do think the buildings from that period in the '60s deserve to be brought up to the 21st century in terms of building technology and environmental technology' (Sydney Morning Herald 30 March 2010). There remains significant disagreement, however, as to the durability and effectiveness of the proposed new skin, and whether a well-proven and efficient building should be disguised and altered in this way.
Charles Pickett, curator