Science is a language that permeates architecture, but the evocation of both usually brings about ideas of futuristic buildings and technology dreamt of by The Jetsons. To have science in a shed is not an image most immediately conjure, but this is exactly what the new Institute for Marine Antarctic Studies (IMAS) in Tasmania achieves.

A project by John Wardle Architects and Terroir Architects in association, IMAS is a 7,130m2 research hub in Tasmania that brings scientific leaders from the University of Tasmania together with researchers from the CSIRO, Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACECRC) and the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS).  

The new building is located on Hobart’s heritage listed waterfront, aligned on the water’s edge and following the rhythm and scale of traditional wharf buildings.

Responding to the vision of centralising Tasmania’s considerable strengths in marine and Antarctic science in one precinct, IMAS’ design is shaped by the site’s history, where shed-like structures had been constructed for maritime commerce and trade.

However, the design evolved through many stages before the final one was decided upon.

“We wanted to create a different type of shed – one that adopted the gable roofed extruded form of history whilst lifting it off the cove floor so that the ground plane became very transparent,” says John Wardle of John Wardle Architects.

“This reveals the activity of researchers and students to the public and makes clear the new use of the site.”

Pigmented zinc supplied by V M Zinc (Victoria) is the main façade material. At 0.7mm thick, the zinc panels have a pre-weathered coating of three colours that create a shifting pattern along the building’s length. This allows for a continuous reading of the shed profile as it traverses from wall to roof.

Window frames from Aluminium Industries (Victoria) are powder-coated aluminium to match this grey zinc colour.

The western façade glass screen is a dual skin façade consisting of automated external louvres that provide solar control from the afternoon west sun. The glass louvres by EBSA Mechanical (Queensland) are laminated glass with a ceramic frit coating forming a graphic pattern.

The shed form is sliced open on the western end by glass windows and thoroughfares to reveal activity and express the enclosing roof and wall form that wraps the functions at upper levels. This symbolically exposes it to the public domain.

Gallery, theatre and conference spaces also provide a public face to the institution of IMAS.

Internally, strands of different functions are aligned with the linear nature of the building. Laboratories are located to the south, offices and write-up spaces to the north.

Between them lie a strand of formal and informal meeting spaces combined with voids that strive to bring the activity of collaboration outside the labs, closer to the activity of experimentation within; spaces where individuals and teams can bounce ideas off each other.

“This is an innovative approach to a typical laboratory arrangement and is intended to foster a connected culture of working together between the many stakeholders of the project,” notes Wardle.

The building has embraced a five star green star rating, and is one of two educational facilities to attain this level of excellence in Tasmania. ESD features include heating and cooling the building with water drawn from the Derwent River.

At the same time, Insulated Glass Units with a low emissivity (Low E) coating from Viridian Glass and G. James Glass are utilised to reduce glare and thermal transmittance, which in turn reduces the load on the mechanical heating and cooling equipment.

Operable awning windows also from EBSA Mechanical are controlled by the Building Management System and provide mixed mode natural ventilation, while operable perforated aluminium panels are installed for solar and visual control to the ground floor auditorium.

Prolonging the link between the site’s history and evolution of the waterfront with its design, IMAS looks ahead without forgetting about the past. The interplay between the shed’s industrial exterior and the cutting-edge science that takes place within is an obvious yet meaningful juxtaposition; a refreshing dichotomy which has and will remain natural for architecture.

Images courtesy of John Wardle Architects