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Architectural designs in composites – Swanston Square

ARM Achitecture innovative use of resin composite on the facade of Swanston Square apartments
  ARM Achitecture’s innovative design for Melbourne’s Swanston Square apartments draws on the unique characteristics of advanced composite building materials to create a new city landmark. Image courtesy ARM Architecture. Photographer Peter Bennetts.

Melbourne has a new landmark, an 80 metre façade depicting the portrait of Indigenous leader William Barak, made possible through the innovative use of a composite building material.

Four times the height of Mount Rushmore in the USA, the portrait façade on the Swanston Square apartments, realises the vision of ARM Architecture to make a “visual and cultural contribution” to the city’s landscape on the high profile site.

Rendered from a photograph of a sculpture of Barak by contemporary artist Peter Schipperheyn, the portrait is testament to the organic shapes, flowing clean lines and precision that can be achieved using composite building materials.

“It is hard to think of another material that could achieve this result,” says Howard Raggatt, design director of the project and Founding Director of ARM Architecture.

“The precision, the clean lines – there are no junctions or visible joints, it is all integrated into the structure. Longevity-wise it is fantastic; it’s self-cleaning, beautifully manufactured and any damage in transport and construction is easy to fix. A dent in metal is hard to fix. … Aesthetically, the colour, the whiteness could be created. White glass could not achieve such a beautiful seamless quality.

“And when you are in the apartments looking out it looks really smart. They [the panels] are just a beautifully shaped object from every perspective.”

The construction contractor

Construction contractors on the Grocon development, Probuild Constructions, are equally enthusiastic about their experience with composites on the project.

Composites were the ideal choice for what is more an artistic sculpture than functional façade, says Probuild Construction Director, Seamus Egan.

Creative design encourages innovative emerging materials such as composites and an innovative approach to construction, says Mr Egan.

“The façade will hopefully mark the beginning of a significant movement for the construction industry. As a durable and flexible material, GRP is already being used as a substitute in other Probuild projects, including the $665m Eastland Shopping Centre redevelopment currently underway in Melbourne’s outer-east.”

The composites contractor

Peter Schipperheyn's clay study of William Barak

The facade design was generated from a photograph of a sculpture of William Barak by contemporary artist Peter Schipperheyn.

MouldCAM, from its head office in Brisbane, Queensland, took on the challenge of realising ARM Architecture’s vision. The project required precision production of 406 white panels – each a different shape — to be mounted to the front of the black balustrades across 32 floors of the building.

It’s not the biggest architecture project for the company to date, but certainly the most complex, says Jaime Marina, Group Director, Design & Engineering for MouldCAM.

“The design and the laminate were straightforward but the sheer number [of panels] meant designing a system — a process — that would allow us to consistently build each shape with precision, without taking days.

The highly technical project utilised the latest manufacturing technology through the Indonesian mouldCAM Joint Venture, a partnership between mouldCAM and RPC Technologies.

Each panel had a foam core which was cut to exacting specifications on the 43 meter CNC router providing the accuracy to allow the shapes to form the seamless flowing lines required by the designers.

Finite element testing and structural analysis were employed as part of rigorous quality control and materials were sourced that met building fire rating standards and guarantees.

MouldCAM also provided the 96 black and silver domes for the façade of the building’s six storey carpark, that spell out “Wurundjeri I am who I am” in braille.

The Swanston Square façades are one of a growing number of architectural projects for MouldCAM, who have recently trademarked their structural composite technology called ShapeShell, as they step-up marketing to the architecture and construction industries.

The flowing green awning on RMIT University’s Storey Hall in Swanston St Melbourne was the first project with ARM Architecture, followed in 2011 by the distinctive ‘Green Brain’, that forms part of the historic building’s rooftop.

Recently completed projects include the innovative composites solution for the roof of the award winning Bradman and Noble Stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground (a two-metre perimeter, nose cone incorporating the gutter and underlying sofit) and the striking gold entry and façade on the Orbis apartments in Melbourne’s arts precinct on St Kilda Rd, another ARM Architecture design.


ARM Architecture
MouldCAM / ShapeShell