The thoughtful use of glass, steel, concrete and new and recycled timber allowed this building to meet a demanding brief within an urban context, the resulting structure achieving international recognition.


The Youth Mental Health Building (YMBH) is part of the Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI) of the Faculty of Medicine at The University of Sydney. It is focused on research into mental health and clinical issues relating to the brain. The YMHB consists of two floors of patient interaction and consultation and two floors of research laboratories.

The building is part of a satellite campus of the university located in Camperdown, a formerly light industrial, gritty urban area known for its heritage streetscapes, including the YMHB heritage listed façade which required retention.

The building places two research floors above and clinical floors below, allowing an upper level bridge connection to further research laboratories in adjoining buildings.

This configuration allowed retention of the two storey heritage façade and for the street composition to be expressed as the laboratories placed in a clearly articulated ‘new’ glass box, effectively on top of the old façade.

The further requirement to step the building toward the north to ensure sun penetration to neighbouring houses enabled the new glass box to ‘slide’ over the older building creating a large scale composition with smaller scale detailed elements at the conjunction of the forms.

At the street edge the materials reflect the light industrial context – steel, recycled timber and face concrete block. Internally, the floors are linked by an open stair and small atrium containing the social space of the centre.

Meeting rooms and all facilities are accessible from this central space, with materials relating to the exterior – timber, steel and concrete – but here used at a more tactile scale to accommodate daily activity.


The BMRI subliminally communicates that you can use the building, the building doesn’t own you. On approach, the building has a social expression, as opposed to an architectural expression. The architecture comes from inside – what it means to inhabit the space.

In operation, young and typically mentally vulnerable people are not intimidated by formality at the entrance. Rather, the ground floor spaces have a casual ‘drop in’ feel about them, reinforced by using sturdy non-decorative materials that don’t have to be ‘looked after’. Materials are used in their ‘integral’ state with timber warming the industrial concrete and steel of the main structural elements. Access on the ground floor is completely level with no steps, and there is unencumbered access to lifts that serve all four floors of the building. The vertical street created by the timber stair adds another feeling of being in an open and accessible space, making it easy for people needing to see clinicians on the first floor level to find their own way without any confronting barriers.

On reaching the first floor there is a large open tea room that uses the double height space above the entry that is flooded by daylight from the full height window that turns to form a glass ceiling. This allows views to the external street as well as across the bridge to the clinic and back to the timber stair. The timber stair traverses the full height of the building. The rise is broken on the first floor to another axis before rising onto levels two and three where it serves laboratories. On these upper levels there is also a lateral connection to existing laboratories in the neighbouring building.

Glass plank walls in the laboratories create a sense of daylight, the pattern of four opaque and two clear with the clear planks randomly placed produce a translucent light. From the street, this glass façade gives an intrigue to the building.


• 2011 International Health Design Award - High Commendation
• 2011 AIA NSW - Sulman Award for Public Architecture
• 2011 RIBA International Award for Architectural Excellence
• 2010 World Architecture Festival - World Health Building

RIBA Jury Citation: “This building has a tough context, situated as it is in the former rag trade area of Sydney and with a heritage listed façade. The architects have responded with a delightful mongrel of a building with the laboratories placed in a glass box which is balanced on top of the two storey retained building. The resulting composition is visually exciting and a major addition to the streetscape.