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Architecture: Centre for Neural Engineering, University of Melbourne

October 27, 2011

Paul Morgan Architects’ new research facility is conceived as a new urban institution of knowledge, with features inspired by the practice of neuroscience.

The Centre for Neural Engineering (CfNE) at Melbourne University is a new integrated centre for research that co-locates computational and electrical engineering with the biological sciences (mainly neuroscience) devised for the study of neural networks. Research conducted in the facility will enhance understanding of human behaviour, central nervous system disease, and enable the more effective design of human-machine interfaces (bionic ear and bionic eye design).

The project includes a new PC2 laboratory on the first floor, psychophysics booths, an electronic workshop, collaborative meeting spaces, conference and office accommodation for up to 70 researchers.

The CfNE project has been conceived as a showroom-like space for showcasing the integration of the various research activities of the physical and life sciences. Two existing buildings were stripped and conjoined to form a deep, uninterrupted floor plan. The design seeks to blur the boundaries between laboratory, workshop, specialist and office space, to produce a collaborative research environment.

The new co-located field of knowledge is given a bluestone pedestal, like a new urban institution of knowledge. The elongated entry steps enhance the experience of traversing up to the pedestal on the diagonal. The ceiling is a three dimensional translation of the spike trains that are used in the computational analysis of neuronal code. The existing building, meanwhile, is treated with implements, like a lobotomy, or the ‘brain frames’ of the pioneering neuroscientists.

The three dimensional spike trains are projected into a two dimensional condition on the façade, with visual aberrations that highlight the experience of visual cognition as a neuronal process. The façade is wrapped down to the ground to provide an urban corner consistent with adjacent buildings and to emphasise the shop-front nature of the facility.

Team Michael Bouteloup, Paul Morgan, Melissa Thong, Patrick Macasaet, Ying-Lan Dan, Augustine Savage, Jen Berean

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