The University of Queensland Center for Advanced Imaging (CAI; designed by John Wardle Architects and Wilson Architects, architects in association) was completed in 2013 and opened officially in June 2014. It sits at the edge of the University of Queensland’s St. Lucia campus, bordered by a remnant eucalypt forest that the university wanted to protect. This drove the design of the cascading southern façade of the building and the vertical fin design, which reflects the nature of the tall eucalyptus trees in the surrounding environment. The vertical fins also reduce glare, and provide shade in the bright, hot climate of subtropical Queensland, Australia.

The building provides space for 112 researchers in such disciplines as engineering, synthetic and radiochemistry, physics, computer science, biology, medicine, and psychology. This mix of researchers works on innovations in imaging technology, imaging biomarker development, and  biomedical research disciplines.

Traditionally, this type of medical research facility is introverted in nature. The complex machines within are protected by layers of structure and services required to provide a stable environment for experimentation free from vibration and magnetic interference. In contrast, the CAI is designed to include areas of interaction and collaboration across all levels, with particular focus on the ground and uppermost floors. The transparent design makes the imaging technologies and equipment visible to the visitor, and the collaborative, open office spaces support and encourage interaction between researchers.

In addition to three floors of laboratories, the CAI includes write-up areas, offices, and meeting spaces, as well as seminar and training facilities. There is also a communal roof terrace for staff with views across the campus, an outdoor amphitheater, and a gallery space.  As part of an integrated approach to sustainable design, thermal chimneys facilitate mixed-mode ventilation for the upper levels of office and breakout spaces for the staff.

A major challenge of the project was how to integrate the equipment into the building design when much of the equipment emits strong magnetic fields beyond their physical footprint — for example, the powerful 7T Magnetom MRI system is the first of its kind in Australia, and more than twice as strong as any other MRI system currently available in the southern hemisphere. The architects responded with a complex plan that considered the space above, below, and beside the equipment, through walls and across levels. Specially constructed shielding is incorporated into the building to provide protection and isolation of the equipment.  

Given the weight and size of the equipment (some of it weighs 20 to 30 metric tons), detailed planning was also needed to work out how to get the equipment in and out of the building and to devise a specialized facilities management and services plan.