This sophisticated engineering solution allows the building to seemingly ‘float’ above the ground plane, without a forest of columns supporting it.
The inherent mass and energy absorbing qualities of concrete, coupled with its spanning abilities, was also key to controlling vibration – a critical challenge to be overcome in a research facility of this kind.
On the upper lab floors, vibration is effectively taken care of by the positioning of the columns on either side of the lab benches. The lab levels typically have 36 columns, with the loads transferred to the six points on the ground plaza level via the flower columns.
One of SAHMRI’s most significant areas of expertise and activity is in nuclear medicine. Deep in the bowels of the building is a cyclotron, a particle accelerator used to produce radioisotopes for cancer testing and treatment. To contain the radiation, the cyclotron is housed within an insitu concrete bunker - the walls, floor and roof of which are 1600mm thick.
Because the radioactivity only impacts on the first 100mm or so of wall depth, the internal walls of the bunker are lined with a sacrificial façade of purpose-manufactured concrete blocks. These can be removed and replaced at appropriate intervals to extend the overall life of the cyclotron.
The use of concrete to ‘do the heavy lifting’ in SAHMRI has allowed other materials to shine, and in particular realise one of the most important design objectives – to allow the building to proudly and openly tell its own story.
Anoop Menon of Woods Bagot says research laboratories are typically sterile, internally focussed spaces, with the external expression very much of secondary consideration.
“We wanted to turn that idea on its head,” he says.
“We wanted people walking past this building to look up and see the researchers working inside – and hopefully be inspired.
“So, the fluidity of the building, the shapes, the transparent façade showing the internal atriums on either side… it’s all about attracting the eye and revealing and promoting what happens inside.”
While most of the concrete underpinning SAHMRI’s form and function is hidden from the eye, it does feature prominently in the ground-level internal plaza. Here, the structural concrete floor slab is finished with a 150mm topping slab, ground and polished to expose the aggregate.
The external plaza area also features a concrete slab with an acid-washed finish, while precast concrete planter boxes at the building entrance complement the surrounding forms and finishes.