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Can algorithms design buildings? Real estate firm Matthews Southwest thinks so

After setting benchmarks with the Museum of the Future and Bee’ah headquarters, Matthews Southwest aims to experiment more with technology. They say that’s how it becomes a norm.

Can algorithms design buildings? Real estate firm Matthews Southwest thinks so
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Advanced modeling is transforming the design process of buildings worldwide, bringing increased accuracy and creativity. Thanks to a part of this technology, a glistening, curved building rose out of the desert in Dubai–the Museum of the Future. The 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology allowed developers and architects to fully visualize and stress test the museum before a single nail was hammered.

Real estate developers Matthews Southwest customized BIM for the futuristic building currently housing the headquarters of The Dubai Future Foundation. The global success of Matthews Southwest with The Museum of The Future meant landing three more projects in the UAE with the same wow factor -– in design, digital applications and sustainability.

“We are currently working on a confidential, ultra-luxury private project in Dubai, as well as two new major developments that we can’t wait to reveal at the beginning of 2023,” says Jay French, CEO of Matthews Southwest. The new works will likely employ Matthews Southwest’s winning formula – of experimenting with revolutionary digital design techniques. 

The Museum of the Future was featured on billboards in Times Square in New York and is considered one of the most intricate buildings in the world. The architects on the project, Killa Design, created a 1,000-capacity multi-use hall and a lecture theater that fits 345 people. 

“We were able to design and model the museum before we constructed it,” says Steve Coates, managing director of Matthews Southwest. “The main difficulty was this enormous ring in the center and the huge reinforcement around it to hold up the entire structure. We could model and design it in detail in 3D before building it and review it to ensure it will last 50 years. This hasn’t been done before.”

Matthews Southwest discovered 10,000 clashes after fully designing the establishment digitally, he adds. “Since we modeled, we resolved all 10,000 issues before we even started constructing it, which is a first in the region.”

The company credited their years of experience with complicated structures alongside innovative digital advancements to create the beautiful formation. Initially, the client, Dubai Future Foundation, insisted on the use of BIM 3D technology, although French admits that some people from the supply chain and engineering side were worried that they were taking tech too far on this project.

“But we wanted to set the benchmark for the future,” he said. “That’s how it becomes the norm.”

SIGNATURE STYLE

Established in Canada 34 years ago, the real estate development company has built key relationships after over seventeen years of operation in the region and the opening of Dubai offices in 2014. The company is responsible for other familiar undertakings, including the La Mer development of restaurants and cafes along the beach in Jumeirah, Dubai. 

The Museum of the Future is the latest addition to architectural spectacles in the country, including the Zaha Hadid-designed Bee’ah headquarters in Sharjah, dubbed the “smartest office in the world” for its digital elements, creative design, and commitment to sustainability.

“Bee’ah wanted an iconic symbol that showcased what they were about from a tech and sustainability perspective,” explained French. “It’s a fairly young client and this was their first ever major development, so we were both learning about the complexities of the Zaha Hadid design that achieved a LEED Platinum rating.”

“Aside from their upcoming new UAE projects, the company has Saudi Arabia on its radar. “The original numbers to set the agenda for the AMAALA project in the Red Sea development were done by us,” said Coates. “We continue to seek other work there, but it has to be the right fit.”

TOWARDS THE DIGITAL PLANE

French believes the balance of human ingenuity and digital prowess has helped Matthews Southwest produce these standout works. The Museum of the Future and the Bee’ah HQ are examples of how much digital advancements have changed the world of design, engineering and architecture in a city.

The Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, announced a dedicated metaverse strategy in July 2022, with a target of attracting over 1,000 metaverse companies to create 40,000 jobs and add $4 billion to the economy.

In a press statement, Sheikh Hamdan confirmed Dubai’s status as “a hub offering the most advanced ecosystem for the metaverse and a frontrunner in adopting digital solutions globally.”

“You’re going to see more BIM 3.0 and 5.0 offshoots, and the world of architecture and design embracing virtual reality and augmentation to the extent of being able to ‘walk’ into a project,” said French. “Video game technology will be utilized to such a high level of accuracy that you can have reliable fly-throughs and experience a building fully before it’s built.”

With architects, designers and engineers increasingly adopting the different innovative planning models, it is an exciting time for the building modeling practice in terms of seeing how the design and building performance evolves in the years to come.

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