Architectural innovation on Australia's East Coast
Located at the University of Wollongong Innovation Campus, the microscopy building forms the centrepiece of a collection of research buildings by SKM-S2F known as the Australian Institute of Innovative Materials, Process and Devices (AIIM P+D). Accessed over two levels via a naturally ventilated glazed ‘link’ between two large precast concrete research buildings, this delicate timber structure houses some of the country’s most powerful microscopes. With the microscopes highly sensitive to electromagnetic interference, any continuous structural elements in the vicinity must be non-ferrous; this set the stage for the method of construction and the palette of materials.
The use of timber as structure and cladding not only solved any potential for electromagnetic interference but introduced a sustainable material not previously considered on this campus. Internally, a continuous path of bright red linoleum winds its way through the glazed link connecting all three buildings like a ‘snakes and ladders’ board, creating zones for social interaction and accidental meetings; setting the scene for a collaborative academic environment.
Electron microscopes must sit in controlled environments without natural light or ventilation. The resultant ‘windowless box’ was transformed by sculpting the timber cladding and exaggerating the roof form, giving the building its strong identity. With an emphasis on sustainability, all timber products utilised for the building were certified by the International Forest Stewardship Council. The research areas are located on the North side of the building to reduce energy consumption by taking advantage of the natural light. To further reduce the building’s energy consumption and optimise air quality, the building’s louvred glass panels are controlled by the building management system to open or close depending on the environmental conditions.
The scheme provides a number of public meeting places within the irregular geometry of the Link building and in the adjacent landscaped areas. These furnished, informal spaces are where students can sit and eat, read, or catch-up with fellow students. Precast concrete benches stretch across shaded landscaped areas to the east of the link; itself hosting casual seating nooks between the large laminated timber columns of the interior. Rather than hiding the electron microscopes away in a ubiquitous box, SKM-S2F deliberately placed them in a building that draws your attention. It’s this sculptural form and positioning of the building that has generated so much interest and provoked discussions within the Innovation Campus.