World-class architects shortlisted for UNE Boilerhouse project

Published 17 June 2020

Competition is heating up for the task of designing the University of New England's $15.25 million Boilerhouse Discovery Space, with nine world-class architectural companies now being asked to prepare detailed plans and budgets.

The expression of interest (EOI) stage of the project captured the imagination of 58 high-calibre firms, and those shortlisted have a reputation internationally for creatively pushing the envelope.

The successful shortlisted firms and one of their notable design projects include:

  • Architectus Australia (Spark Lab at Queensland Museum, Brisbane);
  • Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects, with REALM Studios (Carriageworks, Sydney);
  • Hayball (Castle Hill Museum Discovery Centre, Sydney);
  • Ashton Raggatt McDougall Architecture (National Museum of Australia, Canberra);
  • BVN Architecture (Questacon, Canberra);
  • Cox Architecture (Waltzing Matilda Centre, Winton);
  • Lahznimmo Architects (Ian Potter Children’s WILD Play garden, Centennial Park, Sydney);
  • Genton (Bendigo Science & Technology Discovery Centre); and
  • ClarkeHopkinsClarke (Melbourne Zoo Growing Wild precinct).

UNE Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brigid Heywood, said the Boilerhouse Discovery Space represents a significant economic development opportunity to further Armidale's reputation as a centre for education excellence.

"The timing of this project, post-COVID, allows the nine preferred firms to reimagine what is possible in regional Australia," Professor Heywood said. "With the completed project estimated to attract up to 90,000 more visitors each year to Armidale, across all tourism visitor markets, it will become a signature destination and could herald an economic revival for the region.

"It will be only the second dedicated children's discovery place in Australia, behind the Early Start Discovery Space at the University of Wollongong.

It was hugely gratifying to receive so many exciting architectural submissions that appreciated the unique opportunity. In fact, it was the biggest response to an infrastructure call-out that UNE has ever received.

Professor Heywood said the appointment of an architectural firm of this league will hopefully attract philanthropic support from generous benefactors eager to join UNE on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.

UNE Discovery Program Leader Dr Kirsti Abbott said the level of professional interest in the project has certainly exceeded expectations.

"Some of the applicants went to a huge amount of effort to embrace the STEAMpunk aesthetic and demonstrate a playful approach to the industrial conversion," Dr Abbott said. "I am very much looking forward to seeing what the short listed candidates come up with next to transform this historic building into an engaging exploration space for all Australians."

All firms responding to the EOI had to demonstrate their experience in meeting five key criteria, including designing exhibition and children's play spaces, industrial conversion and adaptive re-use, and environmentally sustainable design.

The approved principal design consultant will be given 6-9 months' design time. Construction tenders are expected to be called next year and it is expected that the Boilerhouse Discovery Space will open in mid-2023.

The NSW Government has contributed $6.128 million to this ambitious project through its Restart NSW funding program, with the Abbott Foundation and other supporters also donating funds. However, additional philanthropic and corporate partners are being sought to help realise the dream of firing up the Boilerhouse for a new generation.

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