- Architect In Charge: Alex Chaston
- Project Director: Peter Titmuss
- Project Principal: James Grose
- Project Team: Daniel Londono, Anton Kouzmin, Shane Leyden, Louise Lovmand, Kim Humphries
- Services, Structural, And Traffic, Civil And Acoustics Consultant: AECOM
- Specification Writer: Kim Humphries
- Interpretative Design: X Squared
- Accessibility Consultant: Morris Goding Access Consulting
- Building Code Consultant Consultant And Certifier: Blackett Maguire + Goldsmith
- City: Mount Annan
- Country: Australia
Text description provided by the architects. The Australian PlantBank at Mount Annan, is a science and research facility of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust.
The plan has been derived in response to the brief and to the strong natural context. The brief calls for a building of dual function - firstly a place in which research into Australian indigenous seeds will be conducted and a repository of seeds is housed and secondly a facility revealing research through public interpretation and exhibition activities.
The natural setting has influenced the form of the building it embraces the remnant endangered Cumberland Plain forest to the north; as the natural character of the forest transitions to the cultivated landscape of the “embraced” courtyard the building literally reflects the merging landscapes. The dialogue between the transitional landscape and the building is a metaphor for the mediated and cultivated land of Australia.
The landscape is pre-eminent in the experience of the “place" and with the primacy of this relationship between participant and landscape in mind, the building’s entry becomes the engagement with the landscape. Going under the east wing of the building - nominally passing under the ground - the building curves to the north and merges with the land toward the extant forest. Walking to the front door the visitor engages the interpretive display that connects the external courtyard with the internal research.
The entry into the “domain" of PlantBank under the east wing commences the merging of the built and natural forms - the reflective soffit of the entry reflects the terrestrial path, the lichen garden uses remnant sandstone blocks rescued from demolished Sydney buildings to host exotic lichen colonies - a symbolic returning of the once shaped urban sandstone back into its natural (albeit contrived) composure.
The narrative of the built landscape alludes to a “harnessing” socialised culture - the pattern diminishes as the courtyard merges visually into the natural forest to the north.
The building’s expression is derived from this visceral relationship between built form and the land - the concrete base nominally the abstracted earth; the polished stainless steel panels diluting and making ambiguous the relationship between the built and natural settings; the operable louvres enabling mixed mode ventilation sealed by stainless steel bushfire mesh; and the form of the building in both plan and expression being deferential to its natural setting.
Inside the building, the visitor path runs beside the clear glazed laboratories with the external interpretive material focussed on the activities within the labs. The culmination of the visit is the apex of the plan where a multi-purpose room enables seminars and events.
The workplace of the researchers and staff is in a mixed mode environment. Interior finishes have been chosen to articulate the different characters of the building - the laboratories and interpretive areas having visual clarity with the workplaces designed with timber and a softer working environment.
Linked to the Stolen Generations Walk through the forest, PlantBank visitors can be immersed into the greater environment of the Garden.
Sustainability at PlantBank continues the engagement of the building and domain with its natural setting. The plan arcs to the north placing the maximum amount of visitor facade to the sun which is then moderated by a deep wall enabling sunshading. The depth of the wall also facilitates all weather operability of the glass louvres in the public areas and the workplace. In the workplace, with an open plan spanning from east to west, cross ventilation is assured for a considerable part of the year. The mixed mode facilitates a lesser reliance on mechanical plant resulting in significantly diminished energy consumption.
A thermal labyrinth has been installed under the east wing which reduces the HVAC load and extends natural ventilation, particularly during summer when fresh air pre-cooled overnight circulates and forces out warm air. The system is designed to reduce the peaks and troughs of extreme ambient weather by capturing either the heat of the day or the cool of the night retaining it in the surrounding concrete, earth and rock beds of the constructed labyrinth. The prediction for the assisted warming or cooling of the building is up to 7.5 degrees centigrade.
Passive shading is provided to all sun facing surfaces and the concrete floor of the public areas ensures the effect of winter sun is harnessed. Materials of low combustibility have been used to enable bushfire protection and locally sourced renewable resource timber has been used. Water harvesting is employed throughout and gas boosted solar hot water is located on the roof.