Nan Tien Educational & Cultural Facility

International Buddhist Association of Australia

Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Design inspiration from a refuse tip? Now that’s a challenge.

But one, which Calibre, in consultation with Architects Woods Bagot and the client, rose to.

The Nan Tien Cultural and Education Centre underscores the Buddhist belief that a new and healing experience can be generated from a place of disuse and disintegration. And so the architectural design was inspired by the lotus flower; a pristine, beautiful bloom that arises from the mud. The curving concrete walls of the building soar from the formerly contaminated industrial site, bought by the Nan Tien Institute from the local council for one dollar.

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Collaboration was the key to translating a technically challenging design into one which appears seamless and organic.

The building's key feature is the striking concrete walls that bound a cruciform-shaped atrium and anchor the four building pods. These walls extend beyond the facade to form four seemingly freestanding wings, which give the building its signature lotus shape.

Our team identified precast concrete panels as the optimal engineering solution to achieve the client’s and architect’s vision. The decision to adopt precast concrete panels was made early in the construction process, simplifying the construction logistics and providing certainty with the quality of the finished product.

The use of precast panels also enabled the building to be erected swiftly and cost-effectively. In addition, it allowed the façade’s cantilevered “wings” to be attached and reinforced both vertically and horizontally, giving it two-way flexural capacity. This was a significant innovation as a precast wall system typically has one-way flexural behaviour.

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 Given the building is located on a former waste tip, another challenge was the foundation design. As the ground was undergoing settlement there was also a potential contamination risk of escaping methane gas. To address, the site had to be encapsulated in a membrane to control any escaping gas. In addition, to support the building, piles had to be driven down 12m to rock, without rupturing the membrane.

Through innovative design and close collaboration from inception, a refined, curving concrete profile with a high quality finish was delivered within tight budget and defined time constraints.

Intended to be Australia’s first tertiary institution grounded in applied Buddhist philosophy, the Cultural Centre offers a unique balance between the scholarly research of Buddhism and its application. 

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* All images supplied by Peter Bennetts. Architect: Woods Bagott.