The new headquarters for the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research by Hames Sharley moves away from the formula typically applied to research buildings and laboratories, described as a ‘three-layered’ cake: two layers of labs and one layer of offices.

Instead, the design team championed a more transparent and organic plan form for the $116 million, 10-storey building in Western Australia’s new research precinct on the QEII Medical Centre.

According to Hames Sharley, extensive research was carried out around Australia and overseas, with the team talking to various building users and analysing contemporary research practices. They realised that ‘happy accidents’ play a vital role in research discoveries, and therefore sought to create spaces that would facilitate these experiences.

Housing over 700 researches, the facility breaks away from the established orthodoxy for laboratory buildings. It includes five floors for PC2 OGTR lab space, as well as general and specialist support labs, imaging facilities, a bio resource facility, clinical research areas, offices, seminar facilities, a 250 seat auditorium, staff amenities, quiet spaces, and an exhibition gallery.

The research centre is built around a central activated core, with laboratories running from north to south, allowing natural light to illuminate both sides. Each lab floor accommodates 100 researchers, and interaction areas are located centrally between the ‘wet’ lab spaces and ‘dry’ offices.

In order to move between the offices and labs, human traffic is forced to flow to the centre of the building. This layout encourages the encounter of researchers in these central spaces, which is expected to lead to new relationships and the exchange of ideas.

The meaning of medical research is given visual expression at many different levels, both in the fabric of the building and the visual display of ideas. For instance, a subtle warm palette reigns in the building fabric, comparable to the external palette of the human body (eyes, skin and hair colours).

On the other hand an exploration of the human anatomy, which reveals an internal intensity, is reflected in the use of colour and pattern within the centre. These designs were abstracted from magnified microscopic images provided by the researchers.

The Harry Perkins Institute therefore breaks away from the status quo, but continues to draw life from the basic understandings of medical research. This strategy fosters a new way for researchers to conduct their work and breeds collaborative discourse, while reinforcing the meaning and importance of their work.

Photography by Robert Frith - Acorn Photo. Source: Hames Sharley