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James Cook University Central Plaza


Bebegu Yumba Campus, Townsville, QLD

FINALIST: Community & Urban Scale Category, National Biophilic Design Awards 2023

Location: Bebegu Yumba Campus, Townsville QLD
Client: James Cook University
Typology: Building
Site Area: 2,600m2
Architecture: COX Architecture and Counterpoint Architecture (Richard Coulson, Ali Farmer, Bastiaan Kolff)
Builder: Woollam Constructions
Landscape: RPS
Engineer: Meinhardt
Artwork: Megan Cope
Art Curation & Installation: UAP

James Cook University (JCU) Central Plaza delivers shade, shelter and identity for the Bebegu Yumba Campus. Positioned at a crossroads in the University’s desire lines across the campus, the plaza bridges the Magnetic Island Axis, the central organising principle of the Masterplan, and aligns key pathways to future building opportunities.

It is perfectly placed to connect Wadda Mooli Creek and the wider University, forming a central meeting place and marker to help orientate visitors moving through the campus. The multi-functional space serves as a gathering place for formal and informal occasions and provides respite from the heat and unpredictable Townsville weather.

The client, JCU, showed ambition for something memorable – an identifying feature to attract more students and provide an enhanced campus experience. The fluid, elegant shape of the canopy and the impressive 405m2 artwork adorning its ceiling combine to create an awe-inspiring feature for JCU’s Bebegu Yumba Campus.

This work transforms James Cook University Central Plaza into a wave of knowledge systems. It is a reference point for multi-disciplinary research fields connected to local environments and simultaneously provides a source of inspiration for students committed to learning about Gurrumbilbarra and Thul Garrie Waja Country.

Direct experience of nature: As an open shelter, the Central Plaza is awash in natural light. It provides an inside-outside space which connects harmoniously to the surrounding landscape.
Direct experience of Nature: Undulating waves allows for the collection and direction of rainwater into an infiltration planter.
Beauty: The canopy is lifted on columns wrapped in stainless steel, that visually dissolve into or reflect its environment making it appear to float, invoking a sense of awe and delight.
The roof, consisting of two opposing conical vaults, achieve a form that is joyful and organic. The pure geometries of the two vaults are twisted, sliced and offset from one another in response to the Campus’ pathway alignments. It resists the straight lines and right angles of traditional ceilings.
Cultural Connection: The ceiling artwork titled, After the Flood is a continuation of Quandomooka artist, Megan Cope’s flooded landscape series. To develop her piece for the Central Plaza, Megan engaged with local elders, and was imparted with invaluable knowledge gifted by the JCU Indigenous Education and Research Centre.
Information Richness: The Central Plaza is a sensory feast. It is information rich with the storytelling of Indigenous artwork, the blues and greens of which contrast with earthy tones of the concrete seating. The trough of the vaults creates a focal point as it draws nearer to occupants, while planting throughout ensures a calm connectedness to nature.
Mobility and Wayfinding: It is also at a crossroads in the University’s desire lines across the campus and serves as a marker to help orientate visitors through the Campus.
Place based relationships: The components of Central Plaza are arranged and aligned along the Magnetic Island Axis. This axis forms the central organising principle of the Campus’ Masterplan, linking key components including the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library and the Townsville University Hospital.

Project Photography: Christopher Frederick Jones courtesy COX Architecture.