OHM 2013: Walter + Eliza Hall Institute

After leaving the RMH Tunnels and Helipad tour, I hot-footed it around the corner to the Walter + Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) as part of my Open House Melbourne 2013 outing. Since 1915 WEHI has had an association with the Royal Melbourne Hospital and effectively it has been located next to, or in an RMH building ever since.

The tour started at the main entrance located next to the basketball court for University High. The interior is simple yet impressive (no photos of the entrance interior as I wasn't sure at this stage if photography was OK) which prominently displays all the funding partners and donors which contribute to the Institute. Beyond the security gates we were lead down the Discovery Tunnel which chronicles the history of the institute and leads to the newest wing, designed by DCM and opened in 2012.

On the ground floor of the new wing rests a model of the Institute's facilities as well as many of the prestigious awards scientists working at the Institute have received over the years including the Nobel Prize awarded to Frank Macfarlane Burnet.

Model of the WEHI facilities
Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet's Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Sir Peter Medawar for the discovery of immunological tolerance

After going up one level, a short video featuring cameos by the design team was playing and half-way through I gazed upwards and became transfixed with the illumination of the void which we were standing at the base of.

WEHI - Looking straight up between the Labs and staircase
Looking up at the WEHI labs

When we rode up the glass lift, exited to go through the secured entry, we were greeted with life - no not mutant zombie-like creatures, but scientists, at work in the lab. It turns out there's approximately 1000 scientists, researchers and support staff working at the institute: no small organisation by any stretch of the imagination. We were also then taken into the only tea room in the entire facility - and it's enormous, complete with separate lecture theatre, industrial-sized kitchen and enough seats and tables, by my estimation, for 300 people - not to mention a great northerly aspect looking over old-school Parkville.

Looking north over Parkville

The tour naturally focused on the architecture, however WEHI also run Discovery tours which focus on the research and science which happens inside. I'd recommend anyone, even if you have a limited interest in science (says someone who dropped Science altogether in Year 10 and has only appreciated its application in adulthood) sign up because you'll be exposed to spaces, in particular work spaces, unlike many in the city.

1 comment

Peter Maltezos's picture

Great article Alastair.

I was a volunteer guide at WEHI on the Sunday, just missed each other!

One of the interesting things I pointed out to people was the fact that the lab wet spaces have lower air pressure compared to the office areas, so if any contaminates escape, they stay quarantined in the wet labs because if you open a door in one of them, the air will rush in instead of out.

One day I'll just have to do an architectural thread on WEHI as well. enlightened

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