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German Research Facility Features Unexpected Design

An exterior rendering of unconventional translusent center for diabetes research building
A new center for diabetes research in Munich, Germany, will feature an unconventional translucent design. HDR/PB Imaging

Designers buck tradition in a diabetes research center in Munich, Germany, that incorporates abundant natural light and spacious interior spaces.

June 4, 2013—When one design team received the competition guidelines for a modern research facility in Munich (München), Germany, that would bring scientists together and encourage collaboration, it cast aside any notion of traditional laboratory spaces. The result is a glass-clad building with open circulation corridors and expansive views of the German Alps.

The Center for Integrated Diabetes Research will bring researchers together at the Munich campus of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, a publicly funded network dedicated to solving some of the most complex challenges facing society, science, and industry. The project began with prequalification of design teams, and those on the short list were invited to participate in a design competition. HDR, Inc., an international architecture, engineering, and consulting firm headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, submitted the winning design in collaboration with TMK Architekten - Ingenieure, a design firm based in Düsseldorf, Germany. (HDR has since acquired TMK.)

The center will comprise approximately 4,000 m2 divided into four above-grade levels and one below-grade mechanical room. Three of the above grade-levels will be dedicated to laboratories and other research areas, while the top level will house offices, a canteen, and lecture and meeting rooms. A general microbiology lab and imaging areas required special attention within the building, but for the most part the research did not dictate the building’s design. Instead, the desire to foster collaboration governed the project, according Jon Davies, a managing principal in HDR’s London architecture studio.

A small building will be demolished to make way for the new center on a flat parcel of land in the northwestern part of the Munich campus. Designed to be in keeping with the existing infrastructure and to complement the campus’s master plan, the center will appear understated, with clean lines and transparent details. “We didn’t want something that was sort of flash and brash,” Davies says. “We wanted something that was just very simple, very elegant.” To that end, the designers focused on perfecting the building’s proportions to form a straightforward orthogonal shape around a 13 m wide by 14 m long courtyard.

While the building’s exterior arrangement will be unassuming, its interior will be bold. The most striking feature will be the unobstructed linear circulation corridors parallel to the front entrance and the courtyard. In addition to stairways, these corridors will include gathering points at which researchers and other occupants can hold spontaneous meetings and exchange ideas with one another as they move through the building. “The big point for me is, from the outside it’s very understated, and then you walk in and it opens up into this huge, quite dynamic space, which is all about circulation and bringing these groups together,” Davies says. “To introduce that into a laboratory environment is quite unique.” 

 Interior rendering of the center for diabetes research building which displays unobstructed corridors

Unobstructed corridors will offer areas for impromptu meetings to
encourage collaboration. HDR/PB Imaging

Another unusual feature will be the center’s glass curtain wall facade. In the labs and offices, the windows will be equipped with external metal louvers to provide privacy and limit solar gain, but around the courtyard, they will be free of louvers to offer views across the courtyard and into the opposite side of the building. The canteen and the meeting and lecture rooms on the top level also will be enclosed in glass so that occupants can enjoy views of the German Alps to the south. What’s more, the windows in the offices and circulation corridors will be operable, allowing natural ventilation through much of the building.

The initial building design is complete, and the architects are now preparing to review the plans with the scientists to ensure that the design meets all of their needs. A structural engineer has been selected for the project through the public procurement process, but the name of the firm has not yet been released. Design development is expected to begin in June, and the project is due for completion in 2017.

Davies says his firm is especially proud to have been awarded the project on the basis of its architectural design. Laboratories “tend to be very functional and they tend not to be the most exciting of places, traditionally, so to do something which is very uplifting with lots of natural daylight and big areas that are naturally ventilated . . . for me is the selling point,” he says. “It is a lab, but it doesn’t look like a traditional lab.”  



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