The University of Adelaide’s latest building is not only a game-changer for the university, it is a “game-changer” for the entire state of South Australia. This is not our own postulating, but rather the words of senator Simon Birmingham, the federal minister for education and training.

The $246-million Health and Medical Sciences Building was officially opened earlier this year within the University of Adelaide’s Health and Biomedical Precinct. The high-tech, student-centric building represents a major commitment from the university to realise a health precinct of international significance.


But also to create a university that is of public significance. A large part of the design brief received by Lyons Architecture was to balance the macro and micro scales of the campus; to create a building that facilitated interaction between the campus and the broader Adelaide community. (The university’s vice-chancellor and president, professor Warren Bebbington, has called the building “a gift by the university to the people of South Australia”.)

In the wake of the building’s official opening earlier this year, Architecture & Design sat down Lyons Architecture director, Adrian Stanic, to discuss how the integrated and tech-savvy design of the Health and Medical Sciences Building is representative of changing expectations in education architecture.


Obviously, the possibilities of architecture are changing rapidly in the face of new technologies. How is this specifically relevant to education architecture?

[One of] the most significant catalysts for changes in education design has been the revolution in digital technologies, be it the uptake and reliance on personal digital devices (combined with integrated wi-fi networks), or the low-cost accessibility of screen and projection technologies.

No longer do we design spaces around computers, such as computer labs. Our focus is [on] designing student-centric spaces that facilitate and enable the [use] of mobile digital platforms such as smart phones and laptop computers. As a result [of using] these technologies, the configuration of formal teaching and learning spaces can be specifically focused on contemporary practices of teaching that combine didactic learning with collaboration and interaction. In this way teaching and learning spaces may have multiple modalities, making for a much richer student experience.


What was the brief for this project? What was the scope?

Lyons undertook the full ‘Accommodation Brief’ and ‘block and stack’ analysis for the new Adelaide Medical and Nursing Schools in 2012. This formed the basis [of] a successful federal funding bid [and the delivery of] a precinct-based vision for all health science faculty facilities at the University of Adelaide.

Informal student spaces were also benchmarked and briefed, acknowledging the growing trend for more ‘student controlled’ social and study environments. These were all briefed to develop a ‘vertical campus’ model, with accommodation for next generation teaching and learning spaces, medical simulation facilities, research laboratories, and a diverse range of informal student spaces.

With any building, there’s a balance between functionality and aesthetic considerations. This would become even more significant in a project such as the Adelaide University Health and Medical School. How did you manage to balance these two considerations?

The briefing process was undertaken using ‘Lyons Workshop’ Methodology, [which involved] a cross-section of university users from the diverse range of schools and [was] inclusive of all levels of the organisation, including students. This process enabled us to prioritise the university’s functional and aspirational objectives for the project. The provision of leading-edge facilities for translational research, teaching and learning, and medical simulation training were considered paramount, [and] so was the concept of physical transparency – particularly at the lower levels of the building. This was to convey the sense of welcome and openness to the street and the public. From the beginning, the design was forged from and balanced between these concepts.


What was your inspiration behind the design? For instance, can you talk us through the bright colour scheme? The choice of the glass-heavy façades?

The design captures the spirit and DNA of the existing main city campus by referencing familiar characteristic features, such as terracing, courtyards, cloisters, connecting stairs, unique interstitial social spaces, materials and textures. This approach aims to create a positive connection with the street, the precinct and the wider city. As a measure of public generosity, a substantial forecourt addresses [the high-traffic Adelaide streetscape along] North Terrace, opening up a four-storey volume to the street with a series of landscape elements that integrate with the North Terrace.

Coloured, fritted glass louvres and tinted glazing were systematised in the glass curtain wall to optimise light penetration while providing shading and glare control into the building. The gold colour was originally inspired by South Australian sunsets; however, it was mainly adopted to reflect the sense of energy and aspiration that this campus building would bring to the west end of North Terrace. The coloured pattern formed in the façade by the sunshades was designed as an abstract reference to the railway lines adjacent to the site, recognising the importance of these in [the] foundation and development of Adelaide.


What will this building be used for, now that it is complete?

The building encompasses a diversity of ‘new generation’ learning spaces including small collaborative group spaces, lecture theatres, technology-rich, skill-based learning laboratories and cutting-edge medical training simulation environments. The building also accommodates five levels of translational research within PC2 laboratories and researcher office accommodation.

How did you manage to integrate it within the existing context of the university, and its established built environment?

Considering that this building was to be a satellite campus in a highly urban context, a major design strategy for the ground plane was to provide dedicated public Urban Park with an articulated landscape treatment that includes a series of spaces for flexible use by students and the public. Together with lawn, planting and trees, the space creates a softened interface between the scale of the AHMS building and North Terrace. The Urban Park concept also connects the neighbouring building – [a] soon to be completed building for the University of South Australia.