The Importance of Precision in Operable Architecture

When it comes to operable architecture, success relies on the co-ordination of multiple disciplines within the design development phase. It also involves a thorough appreciation of materials and their characteristics in the production phase. Moving structures inherently relate one object to another, making precision and accuracy important, otherwise they’re simply not going to work as intended.

TILT’s operable façade in the chapel of Bunurong Memorial Park in Melbourne is a great example of the need for a high level of precision in operable architecture. On this project, we needed a fabrication team who would understand the site-specific design challenges. We also needed to have a strong relationship with them to thoroughly comprehend the interface between the design feature and the building.

The Bunurong chapel façade has three very large custom windows – approximately 7 metres each – and as happens with long span structures, deflections can occur. To avoid the problems associated with this phenomenon we required a custom design approach for the steelwork. We collaborated with the architects at BVN, the structural engineers and our fabricators R&R Murphy to ensure both the structural performance of the frame and the aesthetic were properly considered in the design.

R&R Murphy brought to the project an ability to manufacture straight and true products from shop drawings and computer simulations produced by the design team. Their skill lay in assessing the proposed design, developing a suitable construction methodology, then using the fabrication process to bring to life our custom steel frames.

For the chapel at Bunurong, the glass, frame and motors all had to fit together to work. One long component closing and sealing on another meant that if any part of the lengthy structure was inaccurate, even by a few degrees, it would have a significant impact on the performance of the system. In this case, precision was critical in allowing the interfacing components to work well together so the operable functionality and thermal performance was not compromised.

Another aspect of ensuring precision is having knowledge and experience in working with the characteristics of the materials we propose to use. With this project, R&R Murphy brought an understanding of the way materials behave in fabrication and the capacity for them to be manipulated to achieve reliable results. For the steel frames, the structural engineers provided instruction to pre-camber the frame (slightly bend it up) so that when the weight of glass was inserted, it would flatten slightly and therefore sit straight. The engineers used simulation to create shop drawings and the expertise of R&R Murphy was in developing production methodologies to bring to life those concept drawings.

It’s not all about big structures however. In other cases, such as the Stokehouse in St Kilda, precision was required for the smaller, highly detailed moving elements to work together smoothly, without excessive deflection or vibration.

In all projects, when we engage R&R Murphy to collaborate on a project with us, their experience in the mining industry brings with it a level of comfort around risk mitigation. The mining industry requires high standards of safety, technology and precision and they bring those standards to each of the projects we undertake.

In the pursuit of bespoke operable features, the fabricator’s brief is to create a product that is essentially a prototype, with a high degree of precision and accuracy the first time, allowing us to achieve the functionality in the design.

Quality and precision is critical for operable architecture to be a success. It’s vital to partner with a team that offers the experience and ability to deliver a high quality product from our technically-complex drawings.

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