VISION Issue 50 - Page 9

9 Vision’s Peter Hyatt spoke with Philip Harmer about a project of rigour and elegance: What’s the standout quality about this project? It’s a small building in a big landscape on an urban campus. We had the opportunity of master-planning the whole protected nature reserve. It was a fantastic opportunity to say, maybe this building can look like a device for viewing the natural world. The ocular windows are a clear reference to the idea of a microscope for students to look at the natural world through lenses and apertures. VISION  PHILIP HARMER  How far do you go with pushing the appearance of the microscope without lampooning itself? Well exactly. It was presented to the university as a concept in plan and forms a reference to a microscope. The entrance is actually the eyepiece and the two ocular lenses to the laboratories actually look at the natural world on the reserve side. It’s a subtle reference. I think buildings are far more interesting if they’re lyrical and speak about ideas rather than just follow some form-based solution. It was a great opportunity and the university thought it was terrific. It expresses what they do. What did you learn from this quite special landscape? The landscape is viewed as a slice of the environment. From inside, there’s this slice of landscape as a panorama. We had to be very careful that tree removal was minimised and early on the idea was that it would be a building elevated and not just ‘dug in’; rather it had a ‘floating’ ground floor plane and the decision was to capitalise on the elevated floor plate with the strip window that follows all the way around the building. WATCH ARCHITECT PHILIP HARMER IN CONVERSATION