Adelaide South Australia

sahmri

Futuristic new research building transforming Adelaide skyline

Stunning $200m Research Institute in Adelaide's new Health Precinct tipped to become a national icon

It's been dubbed the cheese grater, the space ship, the prickly pear and even the shingle back. Perched on its North Terrace rise, Adelaide's $200 million crystal palace, with its 6290 triangular glass panels twinkling and changing colour in the sun, is set to become the city's new landmark building.

The headquarters of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute appears to hover above the River Torrens - and that is exactly how Adelaide architects at Woods Bagot imagined it. They wanted to ensure the building did not turn its back on any part of the city.

While many mistake it for the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, this striking building with its mesh and glass outer skin will be home to 675 of the world's elite scientists at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).

Its bold design evolved quickly and is meant to take researchers from their often dark, hidden away labs to a different plane where they can be seen through all that glass - and inspire others to join the world of science.

"(It was this concept) that is what started to lift the building up above the public realm," Woods Bagot principal Gavin Kain says.

The SAHMRI building is at the cutting edge of design. Picture: Peter Barnes

The SAHMRI building is at the cutting edge of design. Picture: Peter Barnes

Inside, there are beautiful airy voids, curved white walls and cutting edge design.

Engineering firm Aurecon have created a flower column system where the 36 supports holding up the top of the building drop down to only six beams at ground level.

At their base, those six columns bear the same weight as 2500 cars stacked on top of each other.

They are covered in bone-like plaster so they resemble the building's skeleton and reference its core purpose in exploring the human body.

Outside, every direction of the curved exterior was analysed to see how the sun's heat and light would be felt inside.

Workers at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)

Workers at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)

That led to specially designed metal hoods being made for each of the glass triangles that make up its "skin" - giving it the look of a cheese grater.

But a lot happens underground as well. Ten metres below North Terrace is a $5 million piece of cancer research equipment installed in a reinforced room and there are state-of-the-art labs upstairs with glass walls to encourage collaboration.

While there are bright hopes for this building to have a long life strewn with world-leading medical discoveries, the state's leading designers say it will also set a new benchmark for the city's architecture.

They believe it can become a national icon.

The city's former Integrated Design Commissioner, Tim Horton, thinks it ticks a lot of boxes - it's a billboard site, it's a bold design.

Inside the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute. The main entrance atrium. Picture: Mark Brake

Inside the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute. The main entrance atrium. Picture: Mark Brake

"And it has what other great cities don't have, it occurs in that cluster, there is the wiggle in the river, the billows of the Adelaide Oval, you come in across the jagged shard of the new convention centre and then you get this curvaceous prickly form of the SAHMRI," he said.

Many reflect that it may never have been built if it wasn't for the Global Financial Crisis.It was when Kevin Rudd launched his economic stimulus plan that SAHMRI won Federal Government funding.

As Woods Bagot director Thomas Masullo says, some people built science labs, but "we built a world class facility for the community".

And the designs were not held back by months of intense Adelaide City Council scrutiny.

Instead, they were fast-tracked by the coordinator general at the time, Rod Hook, who had it ticked off "within weeks".

Light reflected through the hundreds of windows. Picture: Mike Burton

Light reflected through the hundreds of windows. Picture: Mike Burton

"My attitude when I saw the design was 'it's out there, it's what we need'," Mr Hook, who is the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure's chief executive, says.

In a city that usually loves to award a brick bat to anything new, this one is a surprise package as it wins praise from leading designers right through to the local taxi drivers.

Jim Triantafyllou, president of the Taxi Council of SA, says it's a "brilliant building design" and Adelaide Thunderbirds coach Jane Woodlands Thompson believes it "will come to symbolise the progressiveness of Adelaide".

The first of its inhabitants are moving in on December 23, and an Ernst & Young economic impact report predicts the research centre will then deliver a $277 million return to the state in its first seven years of operation.

For Woods Bagot director Thomas Masullo, the process has reinforced his ideas about how great architecture can make a difference, not only in attracting the best people, but in making a city far more interesting.

"Yes, it was challenging, yes, it was confronting, it stretched us, our organisations, but that's the cost of innovation, that's the process one goes through, you need to take risks to get the outcomes," he said.

The winding staircase connecting five floors. Picture: Mark Brake

The winding staircase connecting five floors. Picture: Mark Brake

Source: Belinda Willis, Adelaide Now, 21 November 2013

Main Picture: The new SAHMRI building glistens in the sunshine. Picture: Peter Barnes

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