Facilities that are home to expensive, cutting-edge technology are usually introverted in nature, protective of the complex machines they hold, and exacerbated by layers of structure deemed necessary to provide a stable environment for experimentation.
The $53 million University of Queensland Centre for Advanced Imaging (CAI), however, goes against this grain of design logic. Despite accommodating state-of-the-art, world class molecular imaging technology, a Cyclotron and supporting radiochemistry laboratories utilised by 112 researchers, it actively reveals its equipment to the visitor instead of hiding it away.
According to Wilson Architects, who designed the project in association with John Wardle Architects, this visibility approach led to a concentration of interactive spaces at the ground and uppermost floors, with the five storey building maintaining its links with a remnant eucalypt forest and sports oval.
Terracing, ramping and garden bed s step down from the interior to the natural ground line, and a generous roof terrace provides great views out to the edge of campus from this communal space.
On the exterior envelope, a series of precast concrete panels in a sandstone hue connects the building to its historic campus context and defines its front elevation. Creating a vertical rhythm across the main façade, these panels are patterned with Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imagery produced by the CAI, and feature profiles attuned to reduce glare and provide shade.
Neutral charcoal metal panels were also been specified for the facade, a calling card to the material that clothes the functions related to the technology within, while floor to ceiling double glazed IGU curtain wall clad the southern facade to maximise views to the surrounding landscape.
The interior spaces of the CAI are divided into two categories – public and collaborative spaces which reveal themselves to visitors and users alike, and accommodation spaces for the imaging and technology. Despite the differences in function and material palette between these areas John Thong, Director at Wilson Architects, says a design that encouraged creativity and facilitated interaction was imperative for both.
“The Centre for Advanced Imaging captures highly experimental molecular imaging technology and the necessary support resources within a single facility,” he explains.
“To realise the full potential of imaging as a research tool, the CAI provides a rich collaborative environment for researchers in disciplines ranging from engineering, synthetic and radiochemistry, physics and computer science to biology, medicine and psychology. This potent mix of researchers works on innovations in imaging technology, imaging biomarker development and in biomedical research disciplines.
“But whilst it was an aim to make the spaces responsive to adaptability and future change, the type of equipment being installed within the building had very specific requirements. This technology changed constantly throughout the duration of the project and these new requirements had to be re-accommodated and re-coordinated.”
Public and collaborative spaces are ruled by sandstone paving, carpet tiles and broadloom carpet on the floors, and includes a timber lined double height public entry foyer with a steel framed window on the upper level looking directly into the PET scanners and imaging equipment.
A fully glazed main circulation stair reveals the vertical movement of people throughout the facility.
Walls are a combination of plasterboard, timber veneer panelling, glazed partitions with applied film, and in situ off form natural concrete with applied sealer, while perforated acoustic plasterboard and suspended acoustic ceiling tiles were specified for the ceilings.
Different finishes were chosen for the accommodation spaces, which Thong says responded to intensive briefing workshops that gathered the detailed functional performance requirements for each space. The Epoxy floors have a resilient vinyl finish and integral coved skirtings, and the walls are made of sandwich panels, plasterboard, and glazed partitions with applied film.
“Laboratory buildings are traditionally heavy users of energy, particularly those that rely upon a large array of equipment and technology for their experimentation and research,” explainsThong.
“To offset this energy use, the CAI focused its sustainability strategies on those areas outside the laboratory itself – the write up spaces, offices and communal break out areas.”
Thermal chimneys facilitate mixed-mode ventilation for the upper levels of office and breakout spaces for the staff, its louvres controlled by a building management system that also works on the automated operable external windows to the facades. The top lit thermal chimneys provide natural lighting to the central areas of office space.
Other ESD strategies include a 30,000 litre underground water tank used for toilet flushing and irrigation, a solar hot water system that will be connected to photovoltaic panels, and motion sensors installed where possible to minimise electrical use.
Paint and insulation that were used met low VOC / zero ODP standards, and as many existing eucalypt trees were retained to minimise disruption to the ecosystem, monitored throughout construction by an arborist.
Photography by Christopher Frederick Jones