The $200 million South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), South Australia’s flagship health and medical institute located on Adelaide’s North Terrace, has officially opened.

Designed by Woods Bagot and Research Facilities Design (RFD), the institute is set to be a world-class centre of research excellence.

The building’s sculptural façade, designed in collaboration with Aurecon, presents a strong front, a tell-tale sign of SAHMRI’s vision to facilitate ground-breaking health and medical research and translate science into health.

Inspired by the skin of a pine cone, the triangulated diagrid façade responds to the environment like a living organism. Breathing life to the streetscape, the spiky windows contain 6290 glass panels that dazzle in the sun.

The integrated structural facade also acts as an articulated sunshade that deals with sunlight, heat load, glare and wind deflection.

Following an intensive environmental analysis with consultants Atelier 10, Woods Bagot used parametric modelling tools to integrate environmental, programmatic, and formal requirements into the façade.

From the outset, architecture and structural engineering were brought together to ensure a clear pathway to the construction of a functional and iconic building.

This close collaboration between architect and engineer enabled Aurecon to finesse the geometry of the aesthetic form using simple Euclidean theory.

A regular polygon base (hexagon) permitted the façade system to use efficient, long-spanning and lightweight stadia roof technology.

This allowed the team to utilise a ‘form-active’ structural load distribution system and enabled the use of small rectangular hollow steel members to free span the large distances demanded by the design.

Aurecon SAHMRI project director, Niko Tsoukalas, says one of the products of this keen collaboration is the creation of ‘flower columns’.

“[This was] an approach used to reduce the required 36 column locations to the upper floors to just six main support locations at plaza level.”

As a result, there was no need for a forest of columns, while reducing the support steelwork to around 250 tonnes.

The design solution furthermore created the illusion of the building floating above the ground. This enhanced the architectural vision of ensuring the building did not turn its back on any part of the city, lifting the architecture and creating an open plane in an integrated landscape.

According to Woods Bagot, the driver for the building’s design is to foster collaboration between researchers, achieved through architecture that allows a visual connection between floors and an interconnecting spiral stair.

“Key to the success of SAHMRI is its central proposition: a new and liberating lab typology that promotes collaboration and medical discovery, attracting the best researchers from around the world,” says Woods Bagot principal, Peter Miglis.

With nine fully flexible wet and dry laboratory modules, as well as vivariums, cyclotron and associated public areas, the spaces were created to meet the current and potential needs of the scientists.

Again, the façade plays a big role, allowing maximum daylight into these areas while enhancing external views, thereby creating a healthier internal environment.

The transparent façade also promotes outside views to the internal workings of SAHMRI, elevating the importance of internal activities, and hence the overall function of the building.

SAHMRI can accommodate up to 675 researchers, and is located in a 25,000 square metre medical research and clinical precinct that will also be home to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital (NRAH).

The project is the first laboratory building in Australia designed to achieve a LEED Gold rating.