A room with a view...

Monday, 16 April, 2018

A room with a view...

Inspired by the local environment, a new research facility in the Torres Strait combines elegant design with practicality, making the most of the stunning environment and views.

Set in the lush environs of Thursday Island is the beautiful new Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine (AITHM). Designed by Wilson Architects, in association with Clarke & Prince Architects, the AITHM was established by James Cook University (JCU) and encompasses three new health research facilities located in Townsville, Cairns, and in the Torres Strait.

The facility brings together the expertise of a number of research centres to enhance infectious disease, chronic disease, public health, translational and health systems research.

Research undertaken within AITHM will strongly focus on the health problems of most importance to tropical Australia and the tropics worldwide.

JCU Lecturer Alan Ramsay says the facility’s design recognises that research doesn’t just take place in laboratories.

“A building like this, with so many social and open spaces, makes for a social building where researchers can cross-pollinate and discuss future projects. Being here [on Thursday Island] you’re most sensitive to the needs of the community,” he said. “I think the building can draw the community closer to the actual activity of research.”

Researcher/PhD Candidate J’Belle Foster says the facility is perfectly positioned to address some of the cross-border health issues that are limited to this part of the world.

“We live and work in such a unique part of Australia; nowhere else are we closer to another country than we are here,” she said. “I think what’s most exciting about this place is the capacity for Indigenous people to come and learn about research, and to undertake research initiatives that are important to them.”

The design is a direct response to, and expression of, a place that is both remote and sometimes extreme. It leverages the site’s context proximate to the intensity of the blue waters and flora of Thursday Island.

Community Elder Aunty Romina Fuji says the design is a reflection of the region and the tropics’ love for colour.

“It’s about all colours and a multicultural society. It belongs to all of those people that have come through in the past, and who will be here in the future,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for our people to help in the research.”

The exterior draws colours from nearby trees, flowers, the water and ground. The sloping site enables the laboratories as well as the short-term accommodation to make the most of the project’s extraordinary views of the ocean.

AITHM facilitates cross-disciplinary research activities, research incubation and innovation translation into real outcomes. It includes accommodation space for researchers and consultation rooms, to cater to the health needs of the local Thursday Island community.

Funded by the Queensland Government ($6.3 million) and JCU ($300,000), the site is adjacent to the Torres Strait Hospital and will enable research, training and community engagement. This location is highly vulnerable to disease incursion and health security threats on Australia’s northern border.

This new research facility focuses on infectious disease such as tuberculosis, chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity, parasites and investigations into the mosquitoes that transmit dengue and Zika. In addition, the community space will provide a platform for engagement and collaboration with the Torres Strait community and the hospital service to ensure translation of findings.

This building enables research in the field of tropical health and medicine and specifically investigates issues that are of concern to the Thursday Island communities. This research is key to improving the health and wellbeing of the people of Torres Strait.

Images ©Alex Chomicz

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