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Collaborative laboratories at the ANU with Hassell

Canberra’s Australian National University has a new facility in the Hassell-designed Research School of Physics. It’s taking science into the future and a new era of capability.

Collaborative laboratories at the ANU with Hassell

Creating a new template of design for education in the realm of physics, the Australian National University Research School of Physics designed by Hassell is leading the way in both form and function for academics and students alike.

As the first building in a four-stage masterplan for the physics precinct at the Australian National University (ANU), this facility signals a new era of capability and better visibility of the exciting discoveries that are taking place in physics research and learning.

Australian National University Research School of Physics designed by Hassell

The facility, with a new identity and address on the ANU campus, is located in Canberra, ACT and positioned to provide sightlines across Lake Burley Griffin through glazed facades that connect the outside with those inside.

The large and complex project encompasses myriad amenities that include 22 ultra-stable laboratories supported by collaborative offices and engagement spaces, plus a 250-seat auditorium. However, the jewel in the crown of this building is the 1600-square-metre flexible nanofabrication clean-room facility, the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

“The environment invites discoveries and engaging collaborations and is a place to communicate new understanding,” says director of the school, Professor Tim Senden. “The design brings people close to an extremely active and potentially hazardous space but does that safely without locking things away behind walls. Privacy and openness are balanced throughout the building as the glass invites people to look in and understand even if they can’t touch.”

Principal at Hassell, Mark Roehrs, explains that the design resolves extremely complex and technical laboratory requirements while elevating the presence and visibility of the work undertaken there. “Most importantly it creates beautiful spaces that the scientists enjoy being in – intimate but visually interconnected spaces animated in soft atrium light with the warm materiality of timber framing transparency and outlook,” says Roehrs.

Related: UNSW’s Red Centre becomes the Anita B. Lawrence Centre

This project, while extremely detailed, challenges the perception of a physics facility through its very design. Transparency and visual connection have been achieved across the levels and indeed the entire building, with floor-to-ceiling glazing both within the interior and the exterior. No longer are researchers contained in dim dark laboratories; in this building there is the opportunity to work in spaces that are light and bright where communication is key with those outside.

Along with more transparency in the workplace, the real change to working is that the design encourages more collaboration that, in turn, aids connection and communication to enhance research.

Australian National University Research School of Physics designed by Hassell

Roehrs continues: “As architects, our team brings to the table not only our commitment to outstanding design but also to technical performance and excellence. And so, knowledge and understanding of complex layered research processes is an important part of the toolkit that we bring. It would be a very difficult building for a generalist architect to come into and to be able to deliver, as it requires specialist expertise.”

The collaborative spaces are designed to encourage research groups, or ‘tribes’, to knowledge-share in a way that was not possible before. The design supports a culture of organic ‘cross-over’ through openness. This was achieved through a process of interrogating the way physicists work and then, together with the Head of School, create a new kind of research environment together.

A new addition to the amenity of the school is the 250-seat auditorium equipped with floor extractionsand a laboratory to support performative science and public outreach. The theatre is accessed from the forecourt entrance and, making the most of the surrounding vista, the auditorium and meeting spaces above command views out over Lake Burley Griffin.

Included in the design is a lightweight veiling of sun-shading that enhances the thermally insulated and sealed perimeter curtain wall system of the building. On the exterior, gravitational wave patterns pay homage to discoveries made by physicists and creates a dynamic facade for passing traffic to view as it moves along Parkes Way.

Australian National University Research School of Physics designed by Hassell

As the first stage of the masterplan and a new inclusion at ANU, the Research School of Physics is best practice in its design and inclusive and transparent for those who work and visit. This building places physics at the centre of research and learning on the campus and it is open and responsive to the needs and requirements of all.

Australian National University Research School of Physics designed by Hassell

“It’s about taking the school to a place that puts researchers into a more collaborative, engaged environment, but at the same time, respects their needs to also have quiet, contemplative and focused individual workspace,” says Roehrs. “By setting up clear zones for different levels of activity, you can actually do that quiet focused work in a slightly more open environment structured as a series of smaller neighbourhoods. I think people when they hear about an open workplace environment think of a barn as opposed to the idea that it can be a series of smaller more intimate but interconnected spaces. And so, the response [to the building] has been fabulous.”

As an exemplar on every level, the Australian National University Research School of Physics by Hassell is paving the way for the next generation and doing it with impressive style, great detail and formidable design. 

Hassell Studio

Mark Syke; John Gollings AM (drone image)

Australian National University Research School of Physics designed by Hassell
Australian National University Research School of Physics designed by Hassell

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