Coastal Ecology Laboratory - Victoria University of Wellington


Island Bay, Wellington, New Zealand

This building was awarded an NZIA Wellington Architecture Award in 2009.

This new facility was designed to replace the existing laboratory, which had been on the site since the 1960s. The brief called for a durable and attractive building that functioned in line with Environmentally Sustainable Design principles.

The south coast is an iconic environment in Wellington, with stunning landforms and sea views.  On rough days however the site is blasted by salt laden southerlies.  The building has been designed to reflect the tough environment; using materials that can take the harsh weather; a form that hunkers down into its rocky site; and with building elements that acknowledge and reflect its coastal location.

The nature of the facility requires a reasonably large footprint to accommodate the research undertaken within it.  To ensure the building does not dominate the site, the basic forms of the building have been broken up into smaller shapes, sizes and materials to modify the apparent scale.

The design is based around an open central lobby, that links the floors with walkways and galleries. This creates a flexible and attractive environment suitable for a variety of uses including presentations, casual meetings and circulation. It also assists with ESD initiatives for the building, allowing natural light to penetrate deep into the building.

The floors are at half levels to better link the spaces and also reflect the natural contours of the site. The arrangement of spaces has students and academics being placed on each of the three levels to encourage occupation throughout the building. Academic and post graduate facilities are on the lower level. Wet and Culture labs on the middle level also link with facilities associated with on-water research, and an external courtyard. The upper level houses dry labs, offices and meeting spaces to take advantage of the views.

The building feels like a coastal object and hints at being made from objects found on the beach.  Corrugated iron over the entry, some exposed timber ribs; some stone and different types of metal.  The exposed materials have been chosen to age well and to be generally maintenance free and naturally finished.

Click photo