Ashton Raggatt McDougall, better known as ARM Architecture, was founded in 1988 and has been one of Australia’s most culturally influential architecture firms since. From getting their design works featured on national postage stamps twice, to being the only Australian firm to win the Australian Institute of Architects’ Premier State Award, not one, but five times, the ARM architecture has been turning heads in the nation’s architecture scene with their trademark “architectural outspokenness”.
Recipients of the 2016 Gold Medal Award, its founding directors, Stephen Ashton, Howard Raggatt, and Ian McDougall had envisioned their output to be part of a larger cultural conversation. They strived extensively to contribute socially significant buildings that would stretch the boundaries of architecture and urban thought. Spanning over architectural design, master planning, urban design, and interior design, the firm also traverses onto teaching and hosting exhibitions, with several of their senior staff members holding lectures for schools of architecture at RMIT and the University of Melbourne.
The firm is noted for spearheading several heritage and restoration projects nationally and prides itself on being well researched.
Most Renowned Projects of ARM Architecture:
1. Melbourne Recital Center, Melbourne
Seated beside the MTC Southbank Theatre sits Melbourne’s first true chamber music venue, the Melbourne Recital Center. Devised to accommodate the acoustic and architectural quality of renowned traditional concert halls but at a smaller scale, the MRC supports old world standards fitted into a modern, up-to-date shell. Its prime venue, the 1000-seater Elisabeth Murdoch Hall is a timber paneled traditional shoe box-shaped chamber that rests separately from the building itself to deliver the best acoustics. This along with the 130-seater multipurpose Salon has been imagined as sensitive goods that are meticulously packaged, and hence the bulky white façade. Its northern wall features hexagonal window panes that resemble bubble wrap.
In comparison to the theatre next door, MRC is a platform that has to be illuminated throughout performances, exposing itself to very specific, fixed requirements. Several expert musicians had a hand in tailoring the venue, resulting in a profoundly figurative product.
2. National Museum of Australia, Canberra
National Museum of Australia, open since 2001, was initially commissioned to ARM after winning a design competition in 1997. A sprawling 11-hectares, this ode the Australian legacy is laid out on the capital city Canberra’s Anchor Peninsula. It is often hailed as ‘controversial and daring’, badges of honor that ARM wears proudly.
The museum is a semicircular jigsaw puzzle of uniquely designed exhibition spaces placed around ‘The Garden of Australian Dreams’. Visitors also encounter a 30-meter sculpture of an unraveling loop at the entryway. The form’s glaring deconstructivism is backed with an intricate play of colors and textures throughout. Two pivotal elements resonated with the designers during NMA’s formative stages: exhibition spaces arranged around the central garden were to represent a Boolean String signifying the tangled string of events that form Australia’s history. And that similar to an unfinished jigsaw puzzle, the museum too is an unfinished work in progress, fitting into itself new pieces as the nation’s journey unfolds over time.
3. Marion Cultural Center, Adelaide | ARM Architecture
Initiated in 2001, Marion Cultural Center is often referred to as the very ‘heart’ of the city of Marion, Adelaide. The modernist structure conveys the city’s vision of being a technology-driven smart city and is a state and national heritage listed structure as of 2019.
The city’s very name is incorporated into the cultural center’s façade, making it a tangible civic landmark. Providing for the functional needs of its community without compromising on energy efficiency, it features a branch library, an art gallery, multi-functional performance zones, cafes, and meeting rooms.
Refurbishment and Redevelopment Projects:
4. Hamer Hall Redevelopment, Melbourne
Originally designed by renowned Australian modernist Sir Roy Grounds, Hamer Hall is Melbourne’s primary concert hall and home to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The 1982-built heritage-listed edifice rests by the banks of the Yarra River on the Southbank arts precinct. Its striking drum shape, exposed concrete, and cavernous subterranean interiors that sink three storeys into the ground are somehow reminiscent of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo. Contrary to the cold exterior, its interior by Australian production designer John Truscott resembles a jeweled elegant cave.
ARM was tasked with reviewing the master plan while achieving ‘maximum improvement with minimum change.’ From enhancing the auditorium’s acoustics to world-class standards, updating patron amenity requirements with improved efficiency, to recreating the structure’s entire waterfront façade, the firm strived to retain the balance between the views of its creators while keeping it au courant.
5. MTC Southbank Theatre, Melbourne | ARM Architecture
Home to Australia’s oldest performing theatre company, MTC Southbank Theatre is set up at the heart of Melbourne’s art precinct alongside the Melbourne Recital Center. Described by its creators as ‘unidentical Siamese twins’ born in 2009, this half of the pair houses a 500-seater world-class drama theatre and an all-purpose 150-seater rehearsal hall. Specially designed to entertain evening crowds, its façade features a matrix of glowing tubes hovering over a black box, reminding visitors of a large-scale illusionist painting.
In stark contrast to its neighbor, the MTC acts as a flexible black box that is manipulated by the art director of each performance. During its conception, ARM was faced with an individual creative director who had very specific and clear requirements. It was imagined to evoke a sort of fractured abstraction, an illusion of an inside-out theatre experience, where the props are set out on display on the streets with the actual event space tucked inside.
6. Barak Building, Melbourne
The Barak Building is a 32-storeyed apartment structure that cannot be missed (quite literally) by anyone passing through Swanston Street, Melbourne. Its conspicuous Southern and Eastern façades feature the portrait of William Barak, the last traditional ‘Elder’ of the Wurundjeri-Willam Aboriginal Australian clan. Composed of 3D molded white panels bolted onto black balcony slabs, the image comes to life by utilizing the negative spaces created in-between. The other facades display an interpretation of a vivid topographical map, its palette bleeding into the building’s interiors.
Housing 530 apartments varying from studios to 2-bedroom homes, it also provides residents with an in-house grocery, pharmacy, and gymnasium. A panoramic Communal Skydeck on the 31st-floor offers a ground for sole residents and new Melbournians to connect over food and entertainment.
7. Shrine of Remembrance Redevelopment, Melbourne
A memorial to honor the nation’s military veterans, the Shrine of Remembrance is a historical keystone delicately placed in Kings Domain, Melbourne. Initially erected in 1933, the older version carried a funeral quality about it. The redevelopment heralded by ARM in two stages starting in 2003 transformed the shrine into more of a museum that archived Australia’s most poignant slice of history for its future generations.
The commission required ARM to structure four entry courtyards that led visitors into the older shrine. Additionally, adaptive reuse of the monument’s undercroft to accommodate a ‘Gallery of Remembrance’ and an educational center oversaw an extensive shift in its annual footfall. Regular exhibitions and lectures are now held here with frequent study tours by school and college folk, providing them with a wholesome experience rich in symbolism and references to the nation’s participation in both World Wars and the Vietnamese War. Innovative, yet sensitive to the shrine’s existing build, local materials were sourced to integrate modifications, winning it many heritage and urban design awards.
8. Melbourne Central Redevelopment, Melbourne
Built atop one of Melbourne’s busiest underground railway stations, Melbourne Central is a retail and commercial center with around 60,000 m2 net rentable area. Its centerpiece, the nine-story Coop’s Shot Tower is an 1888-built heritage-listed structure that now houses a museum under the same name.
Located in the CBD, Melbourne Central is a major transport hub that was once left a tangled mess due to its poorly planned commuter-visitor circulation. ARM optimized this problem by opening 17 new access routes, thus transforming the shopping complex into a focal crossing point. Now, retail outlets line pedestrian routes leading to the station, letting commuters stop, shop, and maybe catch a bite.
9. RMIT Storey Hall and Green Brain, Melbourne
The RMIT Storey Hall revival emerged as part of a campus redevelopment project initiated to integrate contemporary educational, exhibition, and conference facilities into a redundant meeting venue constructed in 1887. Unveiling its new offbeat avatar in 1995 created a significant impact on the elevation of Melbourne’s CBD. Resembling the cavernous interior of an amethyst geode cracked open, its purple-green entrance features bronze ‘fat and skinny tiles’ permuted by Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose.
Green Brain is an extension that bleeds onto the roof of adjacent Building 22 to house conference rooms and other professional education facilities that could not be accommodated into Storey Hall. Often compared to the Hulk, leprechauns (a nod to the structure’s Irish origin), sustainability, a vegetable patch, and whatnot, its bulbous green skin is also derived from Penrose’s tile permutation, only a more smoothed out 3D fiberglass version.
10. Leonard’s College Redevelopment, Melbourne | ARM Architecture
A campus that connects Melbournian youth to both the old world and new with a fine mix of heritage buildings and fresh designs is what Brighton East’s St. Leonard’s College offers. ARM has incorporated several outdoor training platforms and augmented existing study spaces for a more enhanced learning experience with all due considerations given to the extant background.
A notable improvement made is to the college’s Year 12 workspace. To prepare students for tertiary education, a contemporary work environment with learning areas, study nooks, university-style lectures and much more have been integrated into the new design. Another addition inspired and adapted from Shakespear’s Globe Theatre in London is The Leonardian, a technologically contemporary performing arts facility, set to open in 2020. With a traditional shoe-box-shaped auditorium, the center also houses teaching spaces for set designing and light and sound engineering.
Latest Projects of ARM Architecture:
11. Monash University Chancellery, Melbourne | ARM Architecture
Conveying Monash University’s vision and identity for the 21st century, the 10,000m2 University Chancellery is instanced by ARM as the modernist “ceremonial front door to Clayton Campus.” A chancellery, traditionally, is a workplace for the principal administration of institutions. ARM architecture replaced the university’s 1960s brutalist predecessor with a portal that connects the university with its surrounding community while also accommodating office and meeting areas for senior executives and staff.
A lavish cloister displaying art representing the intellectual values of the University presents visitors with a warm gathering space. Above this runs the ‘Brise Soleil’, an elaborate steel shading screen that protects the rectangular glass façade from direct sunlight, reflecting its modish demeanor. Hailed as the first commercial structure in Australia designed adhering to Passive Haus principles, it supports Net Zero carbon emissions.
12. Home of the Arts Masterplan, Queensland
Fast emerging and sprawling over 17 hectares in Evandale, Queensland is Home of the Arts, a grand riverside cultural tract set to be fully realized by 2023. What was once an expanse scattered with redundant commercial buildings, parking lots, and aging infrastructure is being revamped into one dedicated to recreation and the arts. A prominent objective of this master plan is to replace traditional landscaping with botanical and artistic ‘Artscape’ cast over 18 distinct sites. To encourage a more sustainable locale, the frequency of parking lots will be reduced and replaced with open interactive zones and parks to promote physical activity.
Its key venue, the HOTA Outdoor Stage, was completed in 2017 and has already begun raking in awards for its versatile configuration. The much anticipated HOTA Gallery to be inaugurated by 2021 is proposed to be the largest of its kind in the country.
13. Geelong Library and Heritage Center, Geelong
The ambitious eight-story high Geelong Library and Heritage Center rest like a giant outer-space time capsule at the civic and cultural heart of Geelong City. Completed in 2015, it inhibits both the essence of the past in its great domed reading rooms and the future with its fractured geodesic shell.
About Johnstone Park, a portion of the dome is cut away, allowing the natural world to penetrate its interiors, thus granting every floor a view onto the greens. Interiors boast state-of-the-art technology and library facilities while also housing a climate-controlled heritage center, a ‘Great Wall of Stories’, and an entire floor dedicated to children, among other things. The library’s Western and Southern façades are composed of crystalline glass shards, earning it the highest possible thermal rating and the project a 5-star Green Star rating.
14. RAC Arena, Perth
RAC Arena, widely known by its former moniker ‘Perth Arena’, is Western Australia’s central sporting and entertainment sphere. Completed in 2012, it is often hosted to basketball tournaments and musical concerts and is spread over an area of 28,300 m2 with up to 15,000 seats. With multi-purpose event rooms, an array of food and beverage outlets, an operable roof, and a brand-new attitude to stadium design, this “entertainment extravaganza” has been envisioned as not just another concrete box, rather creating an extra dimension to celebrated events.
Though having drawn its inspiration from Western Australia’s oldest building and a 209-pieced puzzle, the arena presents visitors with an entirely neo-futuristic experience, thus tying together two far ends of the nation’s cultural vision. A selection of irregularly shaped pieces from the Eternity Puzzle was used as the primary inspiration to create the arena’s angular façade and form, giving it a unique appearance from different viewpoints.
15. Wanangkura Stadium, Port Hedland | ARM Architecture
Set in the dusty mining territory of Port Hedland, Wanangkura Stadium is a bold blue and black pixelated mass that instantly stands out when flying in and out of the area. The 4500 m2 multi-purpose stadium, completed in 2012, houses an indoor playing court, gymnasium, club rooms for local football teams, and other multi-functional zones. With a capacity to hold over 400 spectators, it also acts as a community center for locals and the regular fly-in-fly-out population of mine workers.
Frequented by cyclones and extreme heatwaves, ARM solved this cardinal challenge by reinforcing the façade with vitreous enamel paneling, shielding it from cyclonic impact. Since the area is dominantly accessed via air, the stadium’s roof has been treated like a façade and is painted black and white to represent the local football team. Meant to be viewed from afar, Wanangkura Stadium has been jokingly described by many as a vibrant pixelated structure that might have been punched in by a giant to expose its bright orange interiors.