Australian architecture firm, lyons Architecture has completed John Curtin School of Medical Researc', a research laboratory designed to enhance interactivity and collaborative research.
The body of the JCSMR-ANU building is formed of layered, linear bars of offices, support spaces, corridors, small controlled laboratory spaces and large PC2 Containment Level laboratories. These bars are graded across the section of the building in terms of their intensity of use, with the shared laboratory spaces and open-plan academic offices claiming the privileged perimeters.
At regular intervals these parallel ribbons are punctured by perpendicular zones that slice through the building from facade to facade through an enfilade of apertures, thresholds and windows. These penetrations make it simple to locate colleagues without entering the PC2 Containment areas but, most importantly, they leaven the buried interior spaces by providing elongated vistas through the layers of the building to the wider campus landscape. Consequently the building has an invigorating and porous spatial density.
Architecturally the dense, compact plan obliges us to reconsider the relationship between interior and exterior space. In Bigness Rem Koolhaas revels in the notion of an architecture where "the distance between core and envelope increases to the point where the facade can no longer reveal what happens inside.
The humanist expectation of 'honesty' is doomed: interior and exterior architectures become separate projects". Raphael Moneo inverts this thinking with his appreciation of dense "compactness", valuing the extreme freedom it offers for the organization of interior space within a closed figure that "permits the building to live silently in the city but aware of its own condition, without flaunting the abundance of the interior".
Neither Koolhaas's exaggerated disjunction nor Moneo's urban discretion sit comfortably as a rationale for JCSMR-ANU. The playfully ambivalent meeting of interior and exterior dramatically intensifies rather than denies their interdependence and JCSMR-ANU certainly does not live "silently" in the campus. Its presence is flamboyant and emphatic – but it does not flaunt, or conceal, its interior world. Rather than present, it re-presents the building's interior with Lyons' interest in abstraction and signification variously employed on the building's exterior surface. Exquisitely formed precast concrete panels, which relate to the 1,700-mm laboratory planning module, display pictograms of the Vitruvian man, cellular structures, DNA spirals and nitrogen bases – a medical "powers of ten" rendered in soft, billowy white relief.
The DNA helix is formally interpreted in communal spaces that erupt on the building's facade – in small meeting rooms for spontaneous, informal discussion and in the main stair that offers an open and generous vertical connection through the building at the point where it will graft onto the future stages.