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Inside the Tonsley MAB, with people walking on the neatly concreted pathways surrounded by landscaped gardens and the sun, sky, and clouds visible from the transparent ceiling.

Tonsley’s Main Assembly Building, colloquially known as ‘the MAB’, was one of 15 projects chosen by the exhibition’s creative directors to represent the theme of repair, highlighting the importance of environmental rehabilitation in architectural practice

Cars were assembled in the MAB for about 50 years before Mitsubishi Motors ceased manufacturing on the site in 2008. Renewal SA leads the redevelopment and management of the site, on behalf of the state government, transforming it into a hub for high-value, advanced manufacturing industries that build on the state’s strengths in health, medical devices and assistive technologies; clean technologies and renewable energy; mining and energy services; and automation, software and simulation.

The MAB is the district’s centrepiece, offering a five-hectare floor plate under the umbrella of the striking refurbished roof with other retained structural elements and the original factory floor – all of which embody 90,000 tonnes of retained carbon. A variety of tenancy spaces have been developed including prefabricated, modular buildings that can be deployed in highly flexible configurations to suit a variety of uses and expanded to suit growing businesses.

All utility services are reticulated throughout the roof structure of the MAB, which allows pod tenancies to be plugged in from virtually anywhere in the MAB. There are also larger tenancies constructed using conventional building techniques – essentially buildings within a building – to suit businesses with larger space requirements.

The MAB has abundant natural sunlight and ventilation, thanks to skylights and open ‘walls’ and offers public areas such as the Town Square, two ‘urban forests’, plus cafés and meeting places that all create collision spaces to foster serendipitous networking for collaboration and innovation.

The urban forests sit under open sections of the MAB roof providing naturally shaded green spaces, while cooling the air and reducing the sun’s thermal load on the roof.

The Tonsley Urban Design Protocol and Guidelines were created to ensure all buildings and public realm would adhere to the sustainability and liveability vision for the site.

The guidelines have set new benchmarks for sustainable urban renewal in Australia and have been instrumental in the project achieving its 6-Star Green Star Communities rating, marking the site as a world leader in sustainability.

The redevelopment of the MAB was designed by a consortium led by Woods Bagot, with Tridente Architects and Oxigen.

Woods Bagot project leader Milos Milutinovic said Tonsley was chosen for the Venice Biennale because it sets a new global benchmark in adaptive reuse and transformation of former industrial premises.

“It’s about repurposing existing built resources and not relying on using up more of the earth’s resources or releasing embodied carbon,” he said.

“This former factory is now a conducive, appealing environment to work, meet, collaborate and visit with abundance of green spaces and sunlight.

“Tonsley Innovation District’s selection for the Venice Biennale reinforces the fact that it is a global leader in urban regeneration.

“We haven’t been able to find another similar example of adaptive reuse, certainly not at this scale and complexity.,” Mr Milutinovic said.

The project has won a number of other global and national awards for architecture and sustainability, including the World Architecture News Adaptive Reuse award 2015 in London, two categories of the 2017 Good Design Awards and the 2017 Urban Design Institute of Australia National Award for Excellence in the Urban Renewal category.

“Woods Bagot is delighted to be recognised for this globally significant event. In Adelaide, as across the global studio, we underpin our work with thorough research and methodical processes that ensure world-class design outcomes, of which Tonsley is an exemplar,” Mr Milutinovic said

The Tonsley redevelopment represents another South Australian project that is world class in its ambitions, setting a new benchmark for sustainable urban regeneration projects.

“Tonsley has created an environment that fosters innovation co-located with industry, universities, TAFE and small to medium enterprises – it is a symbol of the knowledge economy,” Mr Milutinovic said.

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