© Klemens Ortmeyer
© Klemens Ortmeyer
© Klemens Ortmeyer
© Klemens Ortmeyer
© Klemens Ortmeyer

Phæno Science Centre

In another award-winning collaboration with Zaha Hadid Architects we reworked traditional perceptions of concrete structure and design to produce Wolfsburg’s new science centre. Themed on the fluidity of concrete, walls flow into the floors and tapering cones merge with ceilings, each element providing support at one time and requiring it at another.

The spatially efficient design comprises a 15,000 m² subterranean car park, a new contoured public space on the ground floor, and a gargantuan 9,000 m² exhibition space at first floor, raised 8 m above the ground.

The building must be considered as a single entity, impossible to dismantle, or to treat any one part of it in isolation: even the vertical ‘cones’, which are the main support for the building, also depend on the slab for restraint. This could only be achieved through the use of the latest 3D modelling technology, carving a path for future designs.

With a warped 150 × 90 m grid for the exhibition space and ten ‘cones’ all with individual geometries and set at a variety of angles, it was crucial that we employ advanced computer-aided complex element analysis to develop a streamlined design. A complex, central BIM model, accessible by all consultants, was used in the iterative design process. Where slopes featured, setting-out details were provided for each level, and walls were then interpolated as direct diagonal connections between the two.

An aesthetic requirement was for exposed high-grade concrete to be poured at once across vast expanses, in some places up to 8 m deep and fair-faced on both sides without any construction or movement joints. Early test runs showed slumping and honey-combing; this led us to specify a self-compacting concrete product which was considerably less viscous than standard concrete, and could flow around reinforcements and provide the high-level finish demanded.

Experimental ‘fluid’ design with Zaha Hadid, a concrete structure that defies convention

Wolfsburg, Germany
City of Wolfsburg
Zaha Hadid Architects
£ 23 million
12,000 m²
  • 2006 AIA London/UK Excellence in Design Award
  • 2006 RIBA European Award
  • 2006 RIBA Stirling Prize – Shortlisted
  • 2006 IStructE Award
  • 2006 Leaf Award – Best Structural Design