Architectural Insight: Global Experts Talk Technology and Process

SHoP Barclay Centre

A roundtable discussion organised by the Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning (ABP) at the University of Melbourne has taken a look at changes in architecture, construction and material processes.

The complimentary event was held at The Edge at Federation Square and included a panel of local and global architectural experts including Gregg Pasquarelli, director of SHoP Architects/SHoP Construction in New York, a firm globally renowned for their expertise in exploring new building and design technology.

Greg Pasquarelli

Greg Pasquarelli, Director of SHoP Architects. Image: Bloomberg

The panels looked at technology and processes regarding the evolving face of architecture, construction alternatives and the flexibility of design today. Hosted by Donald Bates of LAB Architecture Studio and Chair of Architectural Design at the University of Melbourne, Pasquarelli and experts from firms and educational institutions across Australia discussed key projects that implemented cost-reducing architecture, modular technology, increased sustainability and building performance.

Pasquarelli told DesignBuild Source that SHoP is currently working on six of the largest projects in New York City and that he has been travelling for six months doing lectures and exploring some of the most architecturally interesting cities in the world.

SHoP's B2 Project

SHoP’s B2 Project – Tallest Modular Construction In The World. Image: Archpaper

He lauded the architecture in Melbourne.

“It’s fabulous…you can see architecturally that people are taking risks, challenging things, looking at new construction technologies and it has an incredibly youthful culture,” he said.

Pasquarelli said technology is key to his firm’s growing status in New York.

“Computer numerically controlled fabrication techniques have computers actually making the parts and assembling them and while that doesn’t reduce construction costs, you can get a lot more architecture (and design) for every dollar you spend,” he said of the firm’s modular technology.

“It makes our spaces and our buildings nicer to be in and building buildings that people love means they don’t renovate them or tear them down as often and that’s actually a huge part of the waste that’s produced by a city or a country.”

The Nicholson

The Nicholson, A Unitised Building Project. Image: Hickory Group

He referred to his firm’s recently completed $1 billion Barclays Centre arena project in Brooklyn, New York.

“The Barclays Center features an incredibly curving, rusted skin…a building that without implementing technical proficiency there would have been no way you could build it (in terms of the design) and no way you could build it for the cost we did,” he said.

The exterior of the centre is made up of 12,000 pre-weathered steel panels that make up the sweeping, 30-foot high canopy that features an oculus framing the arena.

The firm is also currently working on B2, the first of three new residential towers to surround The Barclay Centre which, upon completion, will be the tallest modular building in the world. Standing 32 metres high, it will house a total of 15,000 open space units with a variety of materials, colours and fabrication techniques employed.

The Edge

The Edge, Modular Pinwheel Panels. Image: Flickr

Michael Argyrou, director of Unitised Building (UB), further supported modular construction with a nod toward his firm’s structural building technology called the UB® System. The technology was created by renowned architect Nonda Katsalidis and is owned by Hickory Group.

Argyou spoke of The Nicholson a mixed-use apartment building in which 95 per cent of the complex was developed offsite and constructed in half the time of traditional construction.

“We constructed seven storeys in 11 days,” he said of the project. “This technology also offers better thermal and acoustic performance compared to more conventional building.”

For that project, 197 apartments were created from 341 individual models that were manufactured in UB’s manufacturing facility located in the inner north suburbs of Melbourne.

Ian Steedman of Brookfield Multiplex spoke of his firm’s own complex modular project, the very space of the roundtable – Federation Square.

The Edge is the first time I came across unitisation which appears on all the facades throughout Federation Square,” he said.

“It’s all based around the pinwheel triangle… all five panels came together to make a larger mega panels, whether they had stone, zinc or glass were made offsite in a factory and brought to site and placed in position.”

RMIT's Swanston Academic Building Modular Facade

RMIT’s Swanston Academic Building Modular Facade. Image: Practical Imagination

Steedman said Brookfield Multiplex’s other prefabrication project, the recently completed RMIT Swanston Academic Building, was a huge risk due to its architectural complexity. Despite the challenges, the building ended up being completed in an impressive 108 days early and $3.4 million under budget.

“The complex shape of the building changes direction over 150 times around the elevation and we were looking at every efficiency we could find for a speedy production,” Steedman said of modular technology.

“It’s a concrete floor but we precasted the odd concrete shapes around the edge level so we have a repetitive precast manner. The façade was incredibly complex but it was a unitised system taken from a 3D model which allowed the change of direction…and a degree of flexibility.”

While supporting the use of modular technology and digital aids in the industry, Hamish Lyon, director of NH Architects brought the audience back to basics stating that architectural processes can sometimes be viewed as “seamless or virtual,” which he said is not the case.

Margaret Court Arena Development

Margaret Court Arena Development. Image: Aus Stadiums

He spoke of the Melbourne Convention Centre development completed in 2006 – Lyon’s first major public project.

“We were designing this project at the same time as it was being built… with architectural students there is still a perception that we design them (projects), draw them and build them but time is an issue,” he said.

Lyon then referenced the CBD Myer redevelopment project, where place became an architectural issue.

“In the middle of Melbourne is a highly difficult to get to site with difficult construction and crane issues,” he said of the project.

“The geometry, construction, architecture very quickly drilled down to how we were going to build this project and keep the department store open 24 hours, 365 days a week. It was a funny combination of architecture and design inspiration and the reality of working with projects where they are and what happens.”

Lyon’s other project entails the sophisticated architecture behind the redevelopment of Margaret Court Arena, where the game of tennis has informed the entire design in terms of the sun angles and shade requirements. The materials for the project are being sourced globally

“In this building the steel work came from Japan and is processed in Korea, the glass from China and the internal materials are coming from Europe,” he said. “Although the building is physically being built just down the river, it is being made all over the world and that is a reality.”

expo 67

Expo 67 in Montreal. Credit: Expo 67

Lyon reminded the audience that while technology has opened doors for for the industry, architecture will continue to be affected at times by the basic forces of nature, time and place.

“At the moment, architecture is in a really interesting place, we do have amazing advancement in technology but at the same time we are building the same as we did in the 18th century,” he said.

“It is still steelwork… things still need to be lifted, things still have to stand up and it is across architecture worldwide.”

By Angela Fedele
Top Image: SHoP’s Barclay Centre, Brooklyn, New York. Source: Archrecord
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