John Curtin School of Medical Research

John Curtin School of Medical Research

“Our competition winning masterplan was organic and unifying – bringing…various disciplines closer together in a highly interconnected, state of the art facility. The DNA strand, as fundamental basis of their molecular research, was a key design idea in the formation of the building iconography.”

Neil Appleton, Director of Lyons

Our work on the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University (ANU) was an opportunity to collaborate and sustain dialogue with leading researchers to transform a world-class medical institute in Canberra. We won the design competition for the project and brought the grand vision to life across three extensive project stages. Our strategy is rooted in the significance of pulling research facilities from the shadows and giving them a clear, bold identity that celebrates their inner (often microscopic) workings. From façade to internal spaces, this project translates a compelling story about the importance of scientific endeavour and the role of collaboration and interconnection in medical research. Designed in close collaboration with the School’s stakeholders and user groups, this project challenges conventional ideas of a closed research facility, opening up and celebrating the work of this leading research School.

  • Sector

    Research Buildings

  • Key Lyons contacts

    Neil Appleton
    Corbett Lyon

  • Client

    Australian National University
    John Curtin School of Medical Research

  • Location

    131 Garran Rd, Acton ACT 2601

  • Traditional land

    Located on the traditional lands of the Ngunawal people

  • Size

    20,000 square metres

  • Project status

    Complete, 2006


2007 Australian Institute of Architects - National
    • National Design Award (Public Architecture)
2007 Cement Concrete Aggregates Association - National
    • Public Domain Design Awards (Commendation – Walls)
  • 2007 Cement Concrete Aggregates Association - ACT
    • Public Domain Design Awards (Best Project in ACT)

“Lyons was one of seven architectural firms invited to compete for the design of a redeveloped John Curtin School of Medical Research. Their concept was a unanimous winner. The building has provided everything we hoped for: an iconic exterior, highly functional laboratories and an outstanding research environment.”

Prof Stephen Redman, Deputy Director John Curtin School of Medical Research (2007)

“We ran a series of workshops with the client which included some of Australia’s leading scientists and researchers to capture their vision for the new building. Together we developed a design that was all about collaboration and exchange, functionality and has a ‘wow’ factor that reflects the School’s international research work.”

Corbett Lyon, Director of Lyons


the Campus

Enhancing interactivity and collaborative research

A strategy to enhance collaborative research and encourage interaction underpins our design for the John Curtin School of Medical Research. Large floor plates maximise the number of people working in close proximity while lifts, interconnecting stairs and highly accessible balconies increase circulation and social interaction. To engage visitors and the public with the inner workings of the School, full height glass walls in the foyer provide views into high through-put robotics labs. The ‘super-lab’ laboratory modules have been planned to optimise flexibility for small groups or large research teams. All laboratories feature an abundance of natural daylight and include flexible services and moveable benching.



The unique iconic façade is imbued with symbolism to communicate the inner workings of the building to the wider public. Digitally formed precast concrete panels represent the work of the School in medical research, at four different scales; from the scale of the human body/humankind, to the cellular level, then to the DNA molecule and finally to the protein bases which make up the DNA molecule, represented by symbols A, G, C and T.

Connecting the heart of the campus

Our design for the John Curtin School of Medical Research transforms the campus and acts as the front door for the postgraduate scientific research precinct. JCSMR has been designed as a low rise, interconnective building to promote interaction between staff, researchers and visitors and facilitate collaborative research. The wide steps and generous plaza create an appropriately scaled public entry into the research facility and also serve to connect the building to the ANU campus. The main entry level houses the public spaces in the building – from the auditorium, to the café, interactive displays and views into the working laboratories. The strategic thinking behind social spaces such as the café is fundamental to rethinking research institutes. Such spaces not only transform occupant’s work days, but they place medical research facilities in the public domain.

Key Contacts

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