Zaha Hadid Architects’ (ZHA) most recent Australian project – the Mayfair multi-residential development, developed by UEM Sunrise and designed in collaboration with Elenberg Fraser – is soon to launch in Melbourne. The former international practice is widely known for its fearlessness when it comes to embracing the irregular, and Mayfair is no different. Inspired by the “rolling waves of the Australian oceans and landscapes”, the façade of the building is composed of complex architectural geometries that are condensed into a cohesive, undulating form. These natural forms continue throughout the interior, to permeate each and every space, from lobby to individual residence.

So how is it possible that such complex architectural geometries can be reconciled with smooth, natural and fluid forms? And how is it that this reconciliation can take place within budgetary constraints?

According to Patrik Schumacher, principal at Zaha Hadid Architects, computational parametric design and other algorithmic technologies are opening up a whole new world of possibilities for architects – even ones as well-known for their experimentation as ZHA.

In time for Mayfair’s grand unveiling, Architecture & Design sat down with Schumacher, and asked him to shed light on how the rise of new design technologies are allowing architects to integrate complexity with fluidity with finance.


As technology gets more sophisticated, customisation has become something that’s increasingly sought-after in all types of projects. What do you see as the future of residential design, specifically?

New production technologies enable us to offer a much greater customisation choice, allowing elements within the architecture to be adapted for different layouts and tastes.

Advanced computational design and digital production with fabrication technologies such as robotics and 3D printing are making customisation very feasible, offering infinite alternatives at approximately the equivalent costs to standardised industrial production. Computational design is already changing the way architecture looks and feels, creating remarkable new homes that are customised for their owners’ [lifestyles] and tastes.  

In the Mayfair, we have also integrated technology to be used directly by residents, including automated car parks, smart glass and many other technologies that improve daily living for residents.


Zaha Hadid has a well-established reputation as a disruptor and an innovator within the industry. What do you think it is about your approach that sets your projects apart?

We strongly believe in a collective, multidisciplinary approach to architecture. New digital design tools, robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and big data are all impacting architecture and enabling the industry to develop solutions to complex issues.

We are working with new concepts, logic and methods that examine and organise the complexities of our contemporary living patterns, creating buildings the engage, integrate and adapt with the needs of their users. Huge advances in design technology are enabling architects to rethink form and space, using innovative new construction methods and materials.

Computational parametric design and digital fabrication are evolving technologies that are changing how we design and construct with an architecture that is intriguingly reminiscent of natural forms but completely modern in expression.

We applied parametric design techniques on the façade of the Mayfair to adapt to the irregular site and large variety of unit layouts. These scripting and programming design methods enabled us to use an optimising algorithm for the façade. This algorithm searches for shape similarities within the façade to a tolerable degree – minimising the number of different façade panels required. This created a superb and truly bespoke façade for the building that would have otherwise been prohibitively expensive.


Your practice is no stranger to the Australian market. What was it about the Mayfair project that appealed to you?

The client’s ambitions and the international design competition really made this project a great fit for us and we are very proud of our successful collaboration with the client. We are working on a number of fantastic projects in Australia where we are developing an entire urban block. For this project however, we are working within part of an established streetscape with its existing contextual relationships and massing. The design applies ZHA’s expertise in delivering high-quality complex architectural geometries, allowing the fluid forms of the balconies to gently turn the corner of St Kilda Road and Bowen Crescent. At street level, we want to re-establish the sense of community for local residents and our design includes generous double-height civic spaces that open to the street for public use such as a restaurant and cafe.


Can you tell us how Mayfair will stand out in a crowded residential market? Can you explain, for instance, what you call its “irregular composition”?

Buyers will appreciate the location, views and high-quality design – those are some of the key qualities which set the project apart. We think competition is a healthy aspect of the housing market; it encourages developers to raise standards and enables architects to propose a level of innovation and quality which would otherwise be typically confined to major civic projects such as theatres and museums. The building responds to its irregular site and has a great variety of unit sizes and layouts which are reflected within the façade.


What has been the inspiration behind Mayfair’s design? Can you run us through some of the more transformative elements of the project?

The façade was inspired by the rolling waves of the Australian oceans and landscapes, and also inspired by the concepts of how a system based on simple rules can generate infinite possibilities within a cohesive recognisable form. These natural forms within the façade design continue throughout the interiors – from the lobbies to the communal facilities and to the interiors of every single unit. We have designed a series of unique elements to cater for every aspect of our daily lives, with bespoke kitchens, fireplaces, wardrobes and bathroom.