The Australian Centre on China in the World building at ANU.

The Australian Centre on China in the World building at ANU.

A blossoming architectural gem

The University's relationship with China has been long and fruitful. SIMON JENKINS steps into a rich new cultural beacon that heralds a new chapter in this bond.

Hidden behind trees alongside Sullivans Creek lies a place of scholastic energy and aesthetic tranquility.

It's a building steeped in architectural delights. Where plum blossom windows with cracked-ice frames look out onto sacred rocks and where Fred Ward furniture is placed in modern, light-filled rooms.

Welcome to The Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW).

It has been designed to bring together academics and students from the humanities and the social sciences.

The Centre, within its magnificent building, has distinguished itself as a world-leading institution for Chinese studies. 

Its creation was a bold idea.

The Centre also has a bold building that reflects that vision.

Mindful of Chinese design principles related to feng shui - principles that are aware both of hills and water - the CIW building blends the natural with the man-made, making the most of Black Mountain and Sullivans Creek views.

The building's ornate features include beautiful pinwheel windows, a Spirit Wall at the formal garden entry to the courtyard and a plethora of screens that highlight an Eastern aesthetic with a hint of art-deco styling.

There's also a nod to Canberra's past, with the building designed to engage with Walter Burley Griffin's original design principles for the city, including the garden and arts and crafts movements.

It's the culmination of a long-term vision of the Centre's Founding Director Geremie Barmé that turned into reality in 2009, when then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd discussed China and the Australia-China bilateral relationship.

"It ended up with Rudd basically saying, 'I like these ideas, can I help support them as Prime Minister? I was able to respond, with hardly any irony, 'Yes, Prime Minister,'" Barmé says.