A new Buddhist tertiary educational facility and multicultural art gallery modelled on the symbol of a lotus flower was officially opened on March 1 in Wollongong.

The Nan Tien Institute and Cultural Centre, designed by Woods Bagot architects, sits opposite the Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere, and on the site of a former garbage tip bought by the Nan Tien Institute from the council for one Australian dollar.

To reflect this, Woods Bagot conceived the building form from the starting point of a Lotus flower “growing from the mud”, from which a project of four distinct building pods housing teaching and community facilities, a museum and art gallery, library, cafe, gift shop and lecture theatres, eventuated.

​The 6,000sqm project is formed around an interior public space from which pods are linked by active bridges on different levels. Woods Bagot says that the design kept with the Humanistic Buddhist teachings of FO Guang Shan.

“The building combines the functions of a contemporary learning environment with a destination for visitors to Nan Tien Temple, bringing the community together to reflect and celebrate Buddhist philosophy,” says Georgia Singleton, Director and Global Sector Leader in Education, Science and Health at Woods Bagot.

The Buddhist symbol of the lotus is one aspect of the design, which will have a range of features that reflect NTI’s Buddhist philosophy and provide a “seamless transition between the (Nan Tien) Temple and education facility.”

“In keeping with the Humanistic Buddhist teachings of Fo Guang Shan, the architecture avoids hierarchy, is modern, values the ‘spaces in between’ as well as providing  a neutral environment devoid of excess and materialism,” says Woods Bagot Senior Associate John Prentice.

In avoiding excess and materialism, Woods Bagot chose a fairly simple material pallete dominated by robust off-form concrete blades and curves contrasting with the warmth of White Oak timber battened interior ceilings from Woodform Architectural and an Axolotl Terracotta façade outside.

The terracotta facade elements are an aluminium substrate material which enabled each blade to be articulated around an axis and locked in place. The blades subtly shift in direction adding a strong textural component to the building and conveying the image of a contemporary lotus leaf when viewed from a distance. The visible timber grain of the concrete pods was made by pouring concrete into custom-made steel and timber moulds.

Photography: Peter Bennetts.