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Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre

Camouflaged in an Australian rainforest located in Far North Queensland, this unique gateway into the Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre is the recipient of the 2012 Eddie Origin 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.

Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre - Courtesy of Charles Wright Architects - Photography : Patrick Bingham Hall

Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre – Courtesy of Charles Wright Architects – Photography : 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.

Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre - Courtesy of Charles Wright Architects - Photography : Patrick Bingham Hall

Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre – Courtesy of Charles Wright Architects – Photography : Patrick Bingham Hall

In collaboration with mechanical, structural, hydraulic and landscape consultants, CWA was able to incorporate 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.

Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre - Courtesy of Charles Wright Architects - Photography : Patrick Bingham Hall

Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre – Courtesy of Charles Wright Architects – Photography : Patrick Bingham Hall

The jury commented, “A courageous and radical departure from classic crafted and lightweight Queensland visitor centers, 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.”

Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre - Courtesy of Charles Wright Architects - Photography : Patrick Bingham Hall

Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre – Courtesy of Charles Wright Architects – Photography : Patrick Bingham Hall

Project Info
Architects : Charles Wright Architects
Location : Cairns, Australia
Project Team : Charles Wright, Richard Blight, Justine Wright, Katja Tsychkova
Project Managers : Charles Wright Architects / Cairns Regional Council / Aecom
Landscape : ArchitectJNP Pawsey & Prowse
Year : 2011
Type : Cultural Center
Photographs : Patrick Bingham Hall

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