Engineering blog
27 Jan 2016

Art in Architecture

When design becomes functional, it becomes a work of art. And, we cannot help but admire it. The finalist of the CTBUH Best Tall Building Award in Asia and Australia is one such masterstroke.

At 377 feet, the Swanston Square Apartment Tower is a tribute to culture and history by architecture. And, as the jury statement points out, ‘Rarely is the line between art and architecture so readily apparent in a tall building, that one is left to wonder whether the final product is one of pure sculpture or functional design.’

Truly so! The façade of the Swanston Square Apartment Tower features the face of Aboriginal artist and civil rights leader Elder William Barak. ARM Architecture, who is responsible for this intriguing design, believes that providing a strong cultural contribution to the exterior of the building was important because of the tower’s location. Situated on the northern border of Melbourne’s central business district, the building is visible on the city grid and beyond.

By the way, the façade image was created from a photograph of a sculpture of Elder Barak by Peter Schipperheyn. The designers reduced the photo to a binary black and white image. Adobe Photoshop was used to convert it into horizontal bands of black and white of varying thickness. Then, the bands were made into vector-based linework to import into 2D and 3D CAD files for fabrication. Barak’s face has been brought to life with a series of white fibre composite panels, designed to create a contrast against the black balcony slabs of the building. (To check their structural adequacy, a finite element software analysis was done prior to construction.)

The tower contains a total of 563 apartments and offers a communal sky deck instead of the typical top-floor penthouse. The plan is to encourage residents to connect with each other, which is why the shared space includes kitchen and dining facilities, spas, barbecues, and an entertainment center with a 20 seat theater!

The north and west facades of the building are designed with a vibrant interpretation of topographic maps. This color scheme continues in the lobby and is also present in the apartments. In the words of another juror, Karl Fender, Fender Katsalidis Architects, ‘The powerful integration of art and respect for the indigenous history of Melbourne are clearly within the façade treatments of the building.’

Designed for short-term residents who move in and out frequently and are not likely to need much furniture, the apartments come with built-in wardrobes, entertainment cabinets, and kitchen counters. With a 5-star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia, this building is certainly a worthy finalist.

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