The Doherty Institute, a $210 million partnership between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, has officially been opened by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, marking the first Australian university project to be designed and completed by Grimshaw.

Named after Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty of the University of Melbourne, the Institute was designed in conjunction with Billard Leece Partnership, created to transform infectious diseases research, training and care in the Australian, regional and global health communities.

The establishment will house more than 700 scientists, researchers and staff from six major organisational groups, led by inaugural director Professor Sharon Lewin, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of HIV cure.

However, the co-located structure of the Doherty Institute also presented a huge challenge to the architects, who had to create a flexible and adaptable design solution that would meet the different demands of university departments and health organisations, but also allow the Institute as a whole to remain fluid and collaborative.

Responding to the centre’s multi-disciplinary function, the team came up with a design that houses large full floor facilities in the basement, and central shared resources on the top floor. Services and support for specialist activities are located in the middle of each floor, linked by fast lifts and an interconnecting stair.

“This allows each research theme in the building to have a clear identity while encouraging and supporting casual connections without compromising security or safety,” explains Grimshaw.

“This ability to generate unstructured connections was continued with social and learning spaces. The collegiality of co-location is supported by a network of social and collaborative spaces that connect vertically through the building in and around the northern scenic lifts and features stair core, creating a vibrancy of light and movement.”

Spread over 14 floors, the collaborative spaces are provided for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and learning, as well as adaptable and specialist research laboratories.

Local social and meeting places take the premium locations on the floors – the northern corners – while larger rooms are clustered on the ground, top and middle floors, driving internal and visitor movement through the whole vertical stack.

“The architecture for the Doherty Institute supports both the primary need to work in modern laboratories that are flexible for current and changing workplace patterns, but also, and as significantly, allows the users of the building to meet and mix across a number of spaces throughout the building – engendering true collaborative opportunity and thinking,” said Grimshaw Partner, Neil Stonell.

Environmentally sustainable design was another driver for the Doherty Institute, with the architects applying both passive and active strategies to improve the environmental performance of the building.

These include: containing open labs in the ‘core’ of the building to create an environmental buffer to moderate the demands of controlling the laboratory internal environment; positioning office areas to the north to maximise natural light; rationalising laboratory air-changes to reduce cooling and energy losses; and incorporating a greywater treatment garden on the roof to create visual amenity and a functional filter for reusing water collected.

The fa├žade of the Doherty Institute has also been designed to directly serve the requirements of the spaces inside. The north face features an interstitial timber batten curtain wall system that provides integrated shading (close to 100 per cent coverage), creating a warm appearing and optimising natural light in office areas. The wall system also eliminates glare and direct sun in the laboratories.

The Doherty Institute is an unincorporated joint venture partnership between the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Health. The Doherty Institute partners and their affiliates gratefully acknowledge the significant funding assistance provided by the Australian Government’s Education Investment Fund and the Victorian Government.

Photography by Peter Bennetts