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    What is Dassault Systemes, who is AR-MA and why are leading architects contracting them

    Nathan Johnson

    Robert Beson is a registered architect and his firm, Architecture Research Material Applications (AR-MA) could be loosely described as an architecture practice.

    “We’re an architecture firm…basically…,” says Beson.

    “We are architects, but we do things very differently.”

    While his vague description is mostly owing to the wide range of services AR-MA provide, it also reflects Beson and AR-MA’s general reluctance to be defined within the parameters of traditional practices.

    “We’re the only firm in Australia who can do what we do,” said AR-MA associate Guido Maciocci at a recent Dassault Systemes launch in Sydney, confirming the insinuations of his director.

    “And as far as I can see, we’ll be the only ones for a while.”

    So what does the AR-MA team actually do? In short, they design buildings and spaces of all types and scales, but they also do a few things that most architects don’t or cannot.

    Foremost, AR-MA produce complex computational designs and digital architectural representations to a level of detail and realness unseen in Australia. They use a 3D modelling platform to create exact digital replicas of architecture products that can be changed on the fly, managed by multiple stakeholders and then fabricated and assembled to the strictest of tolerances—all without the need for remodelling or redrawing from any parties at any step in the process.

    Essentially, it is an IT platform that spans all aspects of product design and delivery and it’s part of a wider movement, says Beson, away from a paper-based, fragmented AEC industry to an industrialised sector where piles of tender, IFC and shop drawings (read: interpretations) are replaced by a singular digital model for use by all parties involved in the making of a building.

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    Guido Maciocci (left) and Robert Beson (right) with the team from Memko outside the Barangaroo entrance to Wynyard Walk. 

    DESIGN INTENT TO DESIGN FOR FABRICATION

    Beson also called it a movement away from design intent to actual design, and compared his firm’s processes to the industrialised industries of car and product manufacturing where a model designed is a model made.

    A quick lesson on AR-MA’s recently completed fitout for the new Wynyard Walk pedestrian tunnel (by Woods Bagot) in Sydney justifies this description.

    It took the relatively small team at AR-MA and software company Memko just four months to code, design and model over 10,500 drawings for the highly bespoke Wynyard Walk fitout. This included fabrication-ready detailing for every one of the 1,500-plus unique perforated metal ceiling tiles that line the tunnel and wrap around architectural lighting, sound systems and structural elements.

    Woods Bagot worked with the AR-MA team and from their 3D model platform throughout the whole process to ensure that their vision for the tunnel was realised.  

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    The new Wynyard Walk connects Wynyard Station to new Barangaroo precinct. It was designed by Woods Bagot architects. 

    But perhaps even more impressive is the level of efficiency and productivity AR-MA and their software of choice - 3DExperience (3DE) from Dassault Systems - achieved for the project. During manufacturing of the panels, less than 10 mistakes were spotted, and these were quickly reconciled within the digital model and refabricated before they even made it to site. Not a single error was discovered during assembly and, by AR-MA’s reports, all the pieces went together without a hitch.

    DEFRAGMENTATING THE INDUSTRY

    3DE is a powerful digital design platform created by French software company Dassault Systems. It’s essentially a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) program similar to those used for car manufacturing that collates an intense level of data related to everything involved in a project on a single platform. It can be used to create schedules, drawings of all types, models, risk management, and costs estimations, but most importantly, it can be used by all stakeholders.

    The significance of this, says Maciocci, is that it has the potential to remove the high level of fragmentation currently hampering the efficiency and progression of the AEC sector.

    Maciocci explains that in the past, delivering a project with the same level of sophistication as Wynyard Walk, the timber soffits and awning for 200 George Street (by FJMT), would have been an almost impossible task. Without factoring in the added time spent designing, drawing and modelling on his own behalf without the aid of computational design, Maciocci explains that the amount of different drawings needed for each stakeholder involved in the project would have made both projects essentially unfeasible given the time constraints of a compressed program.

    Instead, Maciocci and his team worked with the architects, engineers and fabricators from the same platform to create a model ready for fabrication without a single piece of paper. Due to the parametric nature of the computational design methodologies used by AR-MA, unforseen changes of site conditions during construction can be quickly accomodated in the 3D model with little to no re-work. 

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    AR-MA was engaged by developer Mirvac as part of the specialist façade team who delivered 200 George Street’s unique design that arranged shaped, frameless glass and 5-axis CNC-routed timber panels in a highly complex geometric pattern.

    BENEFITS AND BARRIERS

    Internationally, 3DE is used by names like SHOP architects, Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, just to name a few, but back home in Australia its only AR-MA. When quizzed on why, Maciocci suggested that other than cost, which he admits is essentially “prohibitive” for the majority of Australian firms, adopting 3DE does take a big leap as it can be a very steep learning curve.

    “It’s highly sophisticated, and it would take time to obtain the same level of knowledge as we have for the program,” he says.

    It also takes a special kind of team, says Maciocci, to be able to use the program to achieve results like AR-MA did at Wynyard Walk, 200 George and 580 George Street (by FJMT). AR-MA has the benefit of having trained architects behind their computers who have decades of experience designing spaces as well as a high technical capability. As Maciocci explains

    “It’s difficult to find people who have the perfect blend of technical ability and design sensibility.

    “Who know how buildings need to work and but have the creative vision to challenge the conventional.”

    Once you have that balance, then the benefits of 3DE are huge, but when quizzed to suggest a few, Maciocci narrowed it down to four:

    1. An ability to open, visualise and manage massive amounts of data
    2. An ability to work on the same model in a collaborative manner
    3. Scalability – the model can be improved and changed
    4. Geared towards manufacturing—the model designed is the model made

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    Above: You can design and simulate any building, structure, building element, or object with 3DE. You can mock up all projects from office furniture to industrial sheds to ultra-custom stadiums. 

    Below: Plan, model, and simulate any building system element for any scale of project from single occupant to campus and city infrastructure. Design modular plants and runs to reduce field clash and shorten schedules. 
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    RELATIONSHIP MODELS

    While Maciocci is puzzled by the fact that his firm is the only in Australia to use 3DE, he isn’t concerned by it. And why would he be? AR-MA have struck up great relationships with some of Australia’s biggest architecture and construction firms—FJMT, Woods Bagot, Mirvac, Lendlease and Tzannes Associates just to name a few.

    Whether these firms follow the footsteps of Hadid, Gehry and SHOP and take the services provided by AR-MA in house is still to be seen, but Maciocci believes that it’s unlikely unless a number of large scale projects are delivered using the 3DE platform and its capabilities are properly tested on Australian shores.

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