Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre / Charles Wright Architects

© Patrick Bingham Hall

Camouflaged in an Australian rainforest located in Far North Queensland, this unique gateway into the Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre is the recipient of the 2012 Eddie Oribin Award for Building of the Year presented by the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA). In June 2009, Charles Wright Architects (CWA) was invited by the Cairns Regional Council to enter a limited competition for the design of a new Visitors’ Centre for the Cairns Botanical Gardens. The Council sought fresh and challenging ideas to create a memorable piece of tropical architecture that would blend seamlessly into the surrounding environment.

Continue after the break for more.

© Patrick Bingham Hall

In an effort to satisfy the Council’s request, CWA proposed a mirrored facade that literally reflects the surrounding gardens.  The architects’ describe it as having a “visual effect similar to the suit as worn by the alien hunter in the original 1987 Predator film.” The camouflaged gateway houses a café terrace, information and exhibition space, and offices for the council staff. It activates the pedestrian promenade and links the gardens with the Arts Centre, while serving as a cool and dry zone all year round for tourists visiting the often hot and wet environment of the tropical gardens.

© Patrick Bingham Hall

In collaboration with mechanical, structural, hydraulic and landscape consultants, CWA was able to incorporated the following ESD initiatives into the mirrored canopy concept: solar panels for feedback into the energy grid, stormwater harvesting tanks, mixed mode air-conditioning systems, low energy light fittings throughout, low water usage fittings, long life cycle efficiency materials and construction, solar treatment to all windows, naturally ventilated circulation corridors and shaded exposed thermal mass internally.

© Patrick Bingham Hall

The jury commented, “A courageous and radical departure from classic crafted and lightweight Queensland visitor centres, this alternative approach to environmental fit has clearly generated a potent sense of place and use of light. Exhibits both outstanding working and visitor environments within a clear sustainability ethos.”

© Patrick Bingham Hall

Architect: Charles Wright Architects
Location: Cairns, Australia
Client/Council: Cairns Regional Council
Project Team: Charles Wright, Richard Blight, Justine Wright, Katja Tsychkova
Project Managers: / Cairns Regional Council / Aecom

Builder: Hansen Yuncken
Structural & Civil: ARUP Pty Ltd
Hydraulics: CMRP Pty Ltd
Electrical & Mechanical: WSP Lincolne Scott Australia Pty Ltd
Quantity Surveyor: Turner & Townsend
Landscape Architect: JNP Pawsey & Prowse
ESD / Energy Efficiency: Brad Pinches Consulting
Photography: Patrick Bingham Hall

Size: GFA 1415m2
Cost: $4.7M
Time to complete: 4 months Design & Documentation, 10 months construction
Project Year: 2011

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* Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.
Cite: "Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre / Charles Wright Architects" 31 May 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>
  • jamie go

    Won’t birds be knocking their brains out flying into this? Otherwise, I like it!

  • Antje Pasinga

    Nice job – I think the reflective materials work well in that context – don’t if jamie has a point with the bird thing