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Architectural Research, Material Applications: Meet AR-MA

Meet AR-MA, the experimental firm using innovative means and methods of design to make sure first impressions count.

Lobbies, façades and canopies are architectural elements that not only set the tone of what’s inside a building, but also contribute to a dialogue between a building and its local environment, and, in the case of façades, represent a complex and iconic element of a building. And if these elements can all form points of difference for a building, then the means and methods of realising them are AR-MA’s point of difference.

Founded by Robert Beson and Gabriele Ulacco in 2011, AR-MA (Architectural Research – Material Applications) is a Sydney-based technical services consultancy for the architecture, engineering and construction sector. In five short years, the team at AR-MA has realised the design of some of the most novel, bespoke and eye-catching podiums and façades on Sydney buildings, including, most recently, the triangulated timber soffit and awning at the highly ambitious 200 George Street.

“Our intent is to integrate front- and back-end design decisions that engage the means and methods of construction,” Beson and Ulacco explain. To do this, AR-MA develops custom software tools and innovative technological workflows to engage directly with the fabrication and assembly processes from the get-go. This ensures all preliminary design decisions can be feasibly, efficiently and cost-effectively built. “In this way, we are able to produce highly specific, intentional and bespoke architecture that moves away from standardised building,” Beson explains.

This can certainly be seen in 200 George Street, one of Australia’s newest and most advanced sustainable developments. FJMT designed the 37-storey building, including their desired intention for the podium and awning: an open glass lobby to extend the public domain through the ground level of the building, and folded awning profiles that reach out to the street to create a sense of warmth and invitation while giving generous shade and protection.

In collaboration with FJMT, AR-MA developed the fabrication details and drawings of the FJMT designed system*. They tested various fabrication processes with timber and glass options, and developed a fully parametric, three-dimensional digital model with the correct geometry, location, and material type of each building component. They used marine-grade hoop-pine plywood, glued laminated timber and glass panels shaped for frameless installation, and since the majority of components were geometrically unique, AR-MA provided a roadmap, of sorts, for installing the 10,000 plus panels and components.

The result is a glass lobby with a faceted timber soffit and awning – a warm, inviting and organic form that gives the first indication of natural materials being used throughout the building. Indeed the podium is the first contact that occupants and pedestrians have with 200 George Street and it sets the tone for the interior. “This is a gentle space, warm and welcoming, a transition from the workplace to the public street,” says Richard Francis-Jones of FJMT. “Everything in this space has been designed with care and thoughtfully composed to create a sense of resolution and reflection on the history and meaning of this place within our city.”

AR-MA has applied its same bespoke and fully integrated design, fabrication and installation process to projects throughout the Sydney CBD, including the stainless steel façade system at Grosvenor Place; the doubly curved freeform façade of Irving Street Brewery; and the sweeping triangulated canopy at 580 George Street. For all these projects, the lobbies, façades and awnings provide not only a first up-close impression of a building – a visually exciting entrance and a glimpse of what may lie beyond – but also establish a far more dynamic relationship and interaction between the building and its environment.

*The building facade and lobby of 200 George were completed by FJMT. The awning and soffit were completed by AR-MA.

Photography by Brett Boardman and Alexander Mayne.

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