A few of weeks ago, architecture firm Elenberg Fraser secured planning approval for a new luxury skyscraper in the heart of Melbourne. The so-called Premier Tower will be an elegant, curvaceous structure that will house 660 apartments, retail space and a 160-room hotel. While the building’s form is intriguing, so far its biggest achievement is that it has compelled us to mention architectural physics, design, structural efficiency, and Beyoncé’s music videos- all in the same breath.
Whether or not you are a fan of the building’s design (or Beyoncé for that matter), it illustrates a movement that is slowly taking over and redefining the architecture and design industry from the inside out.
Of Science and Slithering Forms
According to what Elenberg Fraser writes about the project on its website, the development of the Premier Tower was a blend of science, inspirational design, and those slinky, writhing forms in Beyoncé’s “Ghost” music video:
“This project is the culmination of our significant research into how to best work with individual site and climatic constraints, brought together using our new parametric modelling techniques. The complex form – a vertical cantilever – is actually the most effective way to redistribute the building’s mass, giving the best results in terms of structural dispersion, frequency oscillation and wind requirements… For those more on the art than science side, we will reveal that the form does pay homage to something more aesthetic — we’re going to trust you’ve seen the music video for Beyonce’s ‘Ghost.’”
Some have criticised this project, debating the use of a contemporary foreign pop icon to justify the form of a building, while others are caught up with the fact that the building is being designed around the female form as a sales gimmick, or that the structure will have little connection with its immediate surroundings.
But these practices are far from new. Several famous developers and architects have modelled buildings on iconic women. Consider Frank Gehry’s, Fred and Ginger building, located in Prague or the buxom towers in Toronto said to resemble Marilyn Monroe’s hourglass figure. Many buildings these days also seem conspicuously out of touch with the surrounding architecture and cultural environment.
Plus, the truth is I feel that all of this chatter is taking attention away from a much more important and deeper trend that is shaping the way projects are being developed and designed.
Elenberg Fraser’s Premier Tower was designed using parametric modelling – that allows complex shapes to be created in response to various data constraints. In the brave new world of design technology, architects are in a constant pursuit to push our building designs out of the box, literally, and it’s the smart blending of art, technology, and science that makes the interesting pieces of architecture that are in such demand these days.
Herein lies the fundamental shift.
Along with the unprecedented changes in design technology, from Microsoft’s Halolens to 3D printing, and the rapid, realtime sharing of knowledge over the internet, it seems that the exclusive demand for the traditional skills of architecture and design will eventually wane. In its place will rise a new wave of design professionals who know how to use the technology at their disposal to bring disparate elements together in new, unique (and eventually, cost effective and structurally sound) ways.
It’s not that those who know how to process and manipulate data will nudge out the true originators. Rather, the sharpest design minds will need to be fluent with the technology that will help them give expression to their ideas in ways that were simply not possible a few years ago.
This evolution is already happening, and though we may still be in the early stages of adaption, the blending of art, technology, and science will no doubt lead to some stunning, optimised optimised pieces of architecture in the years to come.