Building the Australian Centre on China in the World

This website is a creation of the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW), which was established at The Australian National University in 2010. The Centre’s permanent home will be a new building designed by the Beijing-based architect Gerald Szeto 司徒佐 of Mo Atelier Szeto Architects working with the Canberra firm Munns Sly Moore. Construction is well under way and completion is expected at the end of the 2013 centenary year of Canberra. As the Year of the Snake begins in earnest after the Lantern Festival 元宵节, and the Canberra centenary ‘birthday celebrations’ are marked on 12 March, it seems apposite to introduce the new building now:

Panorama view from Sullivans Creek Road

Panorama view from Sullivan’s Creek Road. Rendering by Mo Atelier Szeto + Munns Sly Moore Architects.

The following material is taken from the original ‘site justification’ written by Geremie R. Barmé with Gerald Szeto and Benjamin Penny in June 2010:

The building will be a signature structure at the campus of The Australian National University (ANU) that gives concrete expression to the vision and aims of the Centre on China in the World. A list of sites has been compiled for consideration in accordance with the master plan for buildings at ANU.

Some of the general criteria for the selection of the final site, and the style of the building were that:

    • The CIW Building is to give expression to the vision for the Centre. The Centre will be a creative and integrative research organisation of international standing that enhances significantly the China-related work at ANU.
    • The site is situated on the Sullivan’s Creek ‘backbone’ of the campus. A suitably elegant and functional building at this location will considerably enhance and invigorate the use of the Creek as a key landscape feature of the campus.
    • This site will give the building academic as well as public prominence.
    • It is located at an ideal crossroads linking hubs of research activity related to Asia and the Pacific (the Baldessin Precinct and the Coombs Building, as well as Hedley-Bull), the Environment (the new Fenner School Centre on Climate Change building), the Humanities (Chifley Library and CASS) and the Social Sciences (RSSS and the College of Law).


Approaching the entry court. Rendering by Mo Atelier Szeto + Munns Sly Moore Architects.

    • It is proximate to both graduate and undergraduate on-campus accommodation (halls of residence), student life (cafés, bookshop) and activities (it is proximate to two of the university’s sports grounds).
    • The site is easy to access and service.
    • The CIW Building will feature elements both of Australian and of Chinese design. That is to say:
    • The Building will reflect the vernacular architecture of Australia while achieving a sympathetic engagement with the underlying design principles for the national capital as envisioned by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney. The Building seeks, therefore, to engage with the vital legacies of the garden movement and the arts and crafts movement, both of which inspired Canberra’s early design and many of its unique heritage structures;


View from north (an additional theatre is being constructed in the foreground to the left of this image). Rendering by Mo Atelier Szeto + Munns Sly Moore Architects.

    • Situated next to Sullivan’s Creek the site provides views of a varied and complex landscape – including views towards Black Mountain and over water, towards parallel lines of poplar trees and stands of willows, as well as offering a prospect over the water course of the creek as it meanders through the campus towards Lake Burley Griffin. These natural features allow for the design of a building that will adapt creatively key elements of Chinese building and garden design, in particular the basic demand of any significant structure that it embrace both ‘hills and water’, or shanshui 山水, a principle that allows the natural to meld with the manmade;
    • Furthermore, the site is ideally suited to a creative application of the key Chinese garden and building design principle of ‘borrowing the landscape’, or jiejing 借景, a principle whereby the natural surrounds of a structure can be ‘invited into’, enliven and organically transform an architectural space.
    • These topographical elements will also enable the architect to engage with unique Chinese traditional garden design and thought – that is a tradition (still much emulated in China today) where gardens and their integral structures, in particular the study or zhai 齋, are essential to intellectual and cultural life. It will also recall the traditional ‘academies’ or shuyuan 書院 where Chinese learning was concentrated. Some of these academies are still extant in China (at the base of Lushan in Jiangxi, outside Changsha in Hunan, and so on). A creative adaptation of these architectural designs and cultural motives in the CIW Building will make it internationally prominent, and we would hope celebrated, adding thereby to the éclat of The ANU.
    • The importance of this structure as a feature of ANU and of its commitment to work on Asia & the Pacific is further supported through this site as a building situated here and suitably oriented will not be overshadowed, blocked or hemmed in by existing or future structures.


 View from Fellows Lane, with the theatre to the right of the southern entrance to the complex. Rendering by Mo Atelier Szeto + Munns Sly Moore Architects.