Design Robotics: ‘One Melbourne Quarter – Canopy’ By Woods Bagot

Fishing has always been a big part of life in Australia for as long as anyone could possibly remember. Still, there have been very few attempts in translating this into a compelling visual narrative, let alone render it in such a disarming fashion that non-indigenous fishers and the general public could immediately understand and appreciate.

Woods Bagot, a prominent leader in architecture and design evokes this plot at the main entry foyer of One Melbourne Quarter, a mixed-use precinct found right smack in the commercial center of Melbourne’s central business district.  Through an inspired and intricate two-part canopy design referencing indigenous fishing nets, a historical connection with the original owners of the land and their way of life along the nearby Yarra River is beautifully woven into an artifact and tastefully brought to life.

Award-winning property developers Lendlease also invited Urban Arts Project (UAP) as a manufacturing partner to work closely with Woods Bagot in decrypting the highly complex architectural design vision, its fabrication methods and material solutions. The upshot of their collaboration is an easy-on-the-eye stainless-steel art installation that was fabricated using a relatively new process and made possible by Augmented Reality technology and vision systems.

Quintessentially, “One Melbourne Quarter – Canopy” is the perfect embodiment of Woods Bagot’s immersive and culturally resonant design stories and UAP’s commitment to always be at the forefront of novel solutions to make all things possible.

History at the heart of design

“One Melbourne Quarter – Canopy” is a gracefully designed masterpiece that is composed of two floating elements; a visually arresting and sizeable canopy made of steel poised atop the main vestibule of the bustling commercial tower, and a much sleeker and evidently tinier one parked opposite it and positioned just above the building’s indoor café and bar.

As one integrated decorative piece, the two-part canopy provides a picture-perfect passageway ambiance for just about anyone ready to bask in the story of what long-gone generations of indigenous people from around Australia have to say about fishing and what it truly meant for them.

AR and vision systems at play

A sleek design like “One Melbourne Quarter – Canopy” can be quite deceptive.

To the untrained eye, it can be pigeon-holed as merely simple and clean-looking in the way it looks, but Woods Bagot’s design vision is rather complex with an amalgamation of compound curves.

Easily this could have been met with notions of being audaciously challenging, almost rebellious with its free-form design and configuration and therefore tough to fabricate.  But as to be expected, none of these were details that could have fazed or deterred any of the technical designers at UAP.

While the process involved in documentation and fabrication spelled out an enormously time-consuming and exacting course that required high levels of accuracy, as well as efficiency in placing each section of the frame and then marking out the connecting points between frames, UAP’s awareness and proficiency in AR and vision systems abetted the entire process.

From decrypting a highly complex architectural design vision, to applying new-fangled methods of fabricating within the site context, to keeping within the limitations of time and cost, AR and its supporting technologies proved to be the pragmatic choice.

A two-fold story that captures a saga of time

“One Melbourne Quarter – Canopy” is without doubt an impeccable story that captures a precise saga of time.  On one end, it moves to connect people to their past, causing them to reflect and be inspired about a way of life from long-ago.  On another end, this exquisite piece also serves as a foretaste into the future of design-led manufacturing.

Unbeknownst to many, One Melbourne Quarter – Canopy” is the very first project of UAP where Augmented Reality was initially experimented on, and its potential did not disappoint.

AR headsets with Microsoft HoloLens governed the exact placement of the drill hole points which allowed the technical team to move freely, whilst skillfully navigating and visualizing each focal point via a direct overlay of digital elements amidst what already existed in the physical world.

For Woods Bagot and UAP, the entire process turned out to be an exciting drive working alongside AR technology.  Applying AR onto the process certainly brought the time-consuming documentation process off the paper and onto the workshop floor.

According to UAP’s highly experienced technical designer named Luke, “Traditionally we’d measure and mark these points using a series of workshop drawings.  The advantage this headset is doing is we don’t need to create this time-consuming document. The headset does away with this process entirely.  The ability to see virtually what you are making has huge benefits, and this technology will only get better and easy to use.

To further expound on this, according to Luke it only took him approximately 6 hours to visually identify and directly mark out each connection point for 450 rods along the 17-meter main sculpture frame where normally and without the benefit of the HoloLens, it would have taken him a painful series of back-and-forth leading up to roughly 3 days to complete.  For a less experienced technical designer, this amount of time would presumably be more.

The same technology also helped in assessing the overall aesthetic quality which required a well-organized system for iterative design changes and improvements throughout the fabrication stage.

To this day, everyone forming the team at UAP remain extremely positive and enthusiastic about their user experience and its outcome.  To those directly involved in the craft, incorporating advanced manufacturing technologies in the process of documentation and fabrication was like having an extension of their hands and sight, but with much more control and with calibrated precision. It remains exceedingly encouraging too for everyone standing on the workshop floor to be given a chance to build-up on their knowledge and understanding of futuristic tools such as AR and vision systems.

Following this foregoing success, it is now anticipated that more of UAP’s endeavors involving bespoke artworks and mass customization structures will begin to apply AR/VR systems where possible on the workshop floor.

A glimpse into the future of manufacturing

As with other industries, technological advances and human artistry in manufacturing and design is now seen to converge.  And while others still fear that the widespread of automation and advancements in technology will start to kill jobs, in UAP we celebrate how industrial robots and its supporting technologies integrate not only to assist in the tediously repetitive, but also to complement the human creative mind and support its productivity and what it is truly capable of.

It is the beginning of a long-term era where robotic vision systems and software user-interfaces are slowly but surely blending into our day-to-day, moving from factory floors to eventually interacting with people and solving problems in different contexts and to varying degrees. Though still in its early stages, watch this space as UAP is committed to always be at the forefront of novel solutions and meshing of technology with human creativity to make all things possible.

Through the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), UAP is collaborating with the Design Robotics group from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), and RMIT University as an industry partner to present a range of new possibilities.  The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.

Making headway in the design process and pushing the boundaries in industrial robotic capabilities is a move to empower the people to navigate the ever-increasing complexity of the workplace and support their human experiences.  At its heart is taking the best of what robots and machines can do which is to figure out problems, and the best of what humans can do which is introduce the social intelligence and contextual understanding to create much better products and services for the way we live in the 21st Century.

For businesses like UAP, this will result in an increased ability for mass customization. Dealing with tight deadlines, engineering challenges, and logistical complexities to deliver the full vision should be the last thing in every artist’s mind.  And while it is about improving efficiencies, part of the exercise is to also design an optimal user interface that will allow and facilitate more inspired and enjoyable creative outcomes between the artists and the machines.

The idea is for every artist to be able to integrate more experimentations using the latest robotic manufacturing technologies and techniques to inform their creative concepts and design thinking; and for the rest of the crafts people at UAP to access it and thus fulfil their collective creative expertise.  Ultimately this is not a race against the robots and machines, but rather a race with them.

Contributor: Catherine Gianzon