Learning, the tropical way...

Kylie O'Flynn
Monday 28 Feb 2011

Woods Bagot and RPA Architects to design an education landmark in the Tropics

The aim of this project was to put The Cairns Institute and James Cook University (JCU) on the international stage to attract post-graduate students from around the globe and to enable the university to draw a high calibre of researchers drove the design vision. A $22 million (AUD) project to house specialists in the social sciences, humanities, law and business, to research issues of importance to people in the tropics worldwide, The Cairns Institute seeks to create a landmark building that defines what this university is; in the tropics. The design sets to embrace its place and reason for existence; a building that celebrates being in the tropics, and fuels its purpose to house world-class researchers. This design integrates landscape into its very heart and uses it as its central theme.

Cradled on three sides by rain-forested slopes, the setting is inherent to the idea of a tropical campus - drawing the rainforest into the campus, enriching the urban campus heart and in turn stimulating thought leadership from the students. The tropics suggests an informality of structure and the building reflects this through an evolving landscape skin known as a ‘trellis,’ that defines the building encapsulating the aesthetics and sun control. Porous and pulled apart, each space marks a transition from the outside to the inside.

Intrinsic to the learning areas, a ‘knowledge Xchange’ space stitches the private and public components of the building together; a place for showcasing The Institute’s research findings to the public. The private research component is a glass shopfront, a warehouse, agile and flexible. The public component is porous and interesting, the forms and materials are deliberately memorable. The design speaks to its audience and delivers on its sense of place - the building is blurred into the landscape itself and is truly a design solution that is distinctive and uniquely desirable to the JCU community.

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