Plant Futures Facility

University of Queensland

The University of Queensland’s new Plant Futures Facility provides the academic and commercial research communities with highly controlled and adaptable plant grow rooms. This building will support UQ’s ongoing world class research in food and fuel production and sustainable ecosystems.

The proposed Plant Futures Facility has been briefed to:

– enable world class research
– support a controlled environment facility that will provide the needs for fibre, food and fuel production and sustainable ecosystems in current and future climates, for global impact
– be the leading facility in Australia for tropical to temperate plant species research
– provide facilities that match commercial practice in order to facilitate industry collaboration and attract researchers
– help future-proof the world leading plant research already undertaken at the University of Queensland.

To achieve these outcomes, the Plant Futures Facility will contain an array of: highly technical controlled environment rooms, research laboratories, instrument, steriliser, and media transfer rooms, rooftop glasshouses, and associated administrative areas, storage and service spaces.  The individual grow rooms, which form the core of this project, will each be capable of replicating a variety of differing environmental conditions (dry/humid, cold/hot, short/long daylight hours, variable light intensity, variable levels of CO2, variable light colour, etc.) to simulate any natural growth condition, in a controlled and measurable manner.

The building’s planning is modular, and it is built up from the size of a single standard grow pot (8 pots = 1 tray / 5 trays = 1 trolley / 6 trolleys = 1 small grow room, and so on).  In this way, the grow facility is research focused and ruthlessly efficient.  In section, the plant and equipment associated with each individual grow room is located directly above each room, requiring double height volumes for these spaces.   The detailed design and its interiors are based on both the building’s function and its context.  Functionally, the building is essentially a container for plants and has very little need for windows.  In context terms, the building is situated between 5 very different brick buildings. The design concept embraces this specificity by defining the building as a “walled garden”, with the wall made from 8 different bricks, each one similar to a brick in one of the neighbouring buildings.  The brickwork steps around the walls in large scale pixels, the colour and pattern of which reflects the cross section of Queensland’s soil profiles, whilst the scale of the pixels and the textured pattern of the bricks moves the experience of the masonry wall between textured stone and a brick wall.

At a master planning / urban design level, the site sits at the junction of large research and teaching facilities uphill (to the east), and smaller scale residential colleges downhill (to the west).  The sites to the north have predominantly service and ancillary uses (car park buildings, stores, glasshouses etc.), while the site to the south represents future development opportunities.  These parameters, along with the reconfiguration of the lot, updated flood advice, infrastructure upgrades, the consideration of future links and changing traffic conditions all required a sensitive approach to siting the building and determining the appropriate scale and articulation of the proposed development.  The outcome moderates between the scale of the University’s larger facilities (both existing and proposed), and the residential colleges.  It does so, not as a passive infill project, but as a project that actively works to create a link between the dissimilar uses and scales of the surrounding built forms, knitting together the whole precinct.

The overall result is a Plant Futures Facility conceived of as a walled garden, where the walls connect the building to its precinct and reflect (and in some cases are made of) the same soils that provide the nutrients essential to support the growth of the plants inside and the research that surrounds them.

Under Construction (completion due June 2024)