To create an urban field on the ground, with an object above, was a rare opportunity for us.
— Zaha Hadid
Located in the Wolfsburg’s center and described as ‘an architectural adventure playground’ and ‘magic box,’ Phaeno Science Centre creates a vision of dynamic fluid and complex spaces. The design of the science center is the result of a design innovation that utilized digital animation and conceptualization for the built form and its surroundings. The science center is located at the endpoint of a series of heritage buildings and connects to the north bank of Mittellandkanal. The design responds to the different contexts around the site; the railway lines, the historical aspect of the city, and the city itself with each façade unfolding differently.
Multiple pathways create movement through the site for vehicular and pedestrian movement for better circulation, composing a coherence of movement-paths. The building’s main volume rises above the ground through a series of concrete cones leading to a significant level of transparency and porosity. The area underneath becomes a public space covered with artificial landscape and gently undulating valley merging in the surroundings. Spaces like museum entrance- with escalators taking visitors to the main level, bookstore, and a theatre are located in the concrete cones.
A glazed extension of the existing bridge flows through the building, allowing viewers to experience serene views from the exhibition space. The museum was designed with the objective to create new approaches to the world of science and technology and support discoveries and houses 250 informative exhibits. The architecture and interiors are designed to immediately absorb the visitor with many perspectives under which lies a proper organizational system.
The building looks like a landed space-craft resting on its ten cone-shaped feet, which looks like it is almost hovering in the air. The main exhibition area is raised about 8 meters above the ground with an artificial crater-like landscape connecting various spaces. Phaeno center is believed to be the largest building constructed from “self- compacting concrete” in Europe and includes workshops, visitor laboratories, a science center, a bistro, and a shop. The permanent exhibition space is dedicated to nature, physics, and earth sciences, presented through 350 interactive exhibits and experimental stations. Illustrations of various themes are displayed with exhibits covering topics like tornados, geysers, laser light, luminous gases, gravity, etc. The exhibits are focused on children and to enhance learning for them being extremely specific. The oblique volumes and their design was resolved with the help of software’s like 3D Max and AutoCAD, which resulted in a large number of 2D drawings that were required to communicate the different relationships in spaces and geometries. Consulting engineers used complex element analysis and BIM to visualize and integrate different areas to judge how the relationship between them works overall.
The interiors are irregular and articulated with a clear division in spaces and planes with sudden openings between walls, which constantly engages the user and creates a surprise element during the journey. The interiors seem like they are from another world, given the free-flowing spaces framed by cast concrete. Large glazed curtain walls provide panoramic views of the landscape and skylights in the form of rhombuses are done in concrete. The inner structure is made out of steel decks, and overall, 27 thousand cubic meters of cement and steel and 3500 beams are used in the structure.
In contrast to the standard method of the flat framework that works well with concrete, the structure distinguished itself by showing the predominant use of individually fabricated formwork elements and cast-in-situ concrete. The interiors are sublimely illuminated and the project came around from an international competition staged in the year 2000. The total area covered by the museum is 12,000 sq meter with underground parking spanning over 15,000 sq meter.
The architect Zaha Hadid described Phaeno as “the most ambitious and complete statement of our quest for complex, dynamic and fluid spaces”. The emphasis was on creating a unique structure that challenged normal design methods and took up unconventional materials and construction techniques to implement it.
The architectural design has been described as the design that transforms the vision of the future both in terms of design and the message it wants to give. It is a space that welcomes the public with a powerful landscape that reflects a canvas of transition where the floor becomes the walls and the roof is seamless. The Phaeno Science Center, at a glance looks dynamic yet weightless, but in essence, is a massive and workable layout portraying a fine example of fluid architecture.