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issue 04 Phæno Science Centre issue 04 Phæno Science Centre

Phæno Zaha Hadid

Science Centre
Germany 27

Project Phæno Science Centre

Location Wolfsburg, Germany
Architecture Zaha Hadid Architects
& Mayer Bahrle Freie Architekten
Project Architect Christos Passas (ZHA)
Structural Engineers Adams Kara Taylor with
Tokarz Frerichs Leipold
Project Engineer Paul Scott (AKT) with Lothar Leipold (TFL)
Services Consultant NEK & Buro Happold
Concrete Contractor Heitkamp
Lighting Contractor Fahlke & Dettmer, Germany;
Office for Visual Interaction, USA
Photographer Helene Binet
issue 04 Phæno Science Centre

Zaha Hadid
issue 04 Phæno Science Centre

≥ For here, in Germany’s car city – Wolfsburg is home to Volkswagen Unstable by themselves, the cones are locked in place by the
– the woman who Rem Koolhaas described in 1976, in her final weight of the distorted concrete box they support. For the space
year at the AA London, as “a planet in her own inimitable orbit… beneath, Hadid conjured an undulating pedestrian plaza where
it will be impossible for her to have a conventional career”, has the pavement ramps and dives to direct different paths of
made real in an actual building architectural ideas that previously circulation. At one point the pavement rises to meet the bookstore
could only be guessed at through her wild and fanciful paintings. entrance; at another it sinks to steer visitors to an open plaza
After a string of seminal works – among them a fire station, a tram directly under the belly of the building. A sinuous blue strip
The Phæno Science Centre in Wolfsburg terminus, a ski jump and a small museum, and the 2004 Pritzker
Prize for Architecture, she has delivered the goods with this,
embedded in the pavement guides pedestrians through the
plaza toward a narrow bridge crossing the canal into Wolfsburg.
Germany is remarkable for more than Zaha Hadid’s her first major mature building. And what a building! What Frank
Gehry’s Guggenheim did for Bilbao, the Phæno will surely do
“The Phæno is the most ambitious and complete statement
of our quest for complex and dynamic fluid spaces,” Hadid says.
radical take on her notions of what a science for this small industrial centre trying to reinvent itself as more
than just a car town.
“The visitor is faced with a degree of complexity and strangeness,
ruled by a very specific system based on an unusual volumetric
museum should look like. ≥ Rising on the site of a former carpark just east of Wolfsburg’s
railway station, with the mile-long VW plant to one side of
structural logic. Floors are neither piled above each other
nor could they be seen as a single volume…the mass is supported
the Mittellan Kanal and residential sprawl on the other, Phæno and also structured by funnel-shaped cones protruding into it
is unlike anything else in this industrial city. And while it sits and extending from it. Through some of these funnels the interior
at the endpoint of a chain of important buildings by Alvar Aalto, of the box is accessible – others are used to lighten the space
Hans Scharoun and Peter Schweger it is distinctly of today and inside, while some of them house necessary functions,” she says.
of a style conjured only in Hadid’s extreme imagination. “Phæno combines formal and geometric complexity with
Propped on ten giant cones of steel reinforced concrete eight structural audacity and material authenticity. A lot of time and
metres above an open public space connecting the two halves energy was concentrated on achieving this result.”
of the city, the distorted three-sided concrete box looks wild Whatever you make of Hadid’s architectural gymnastics, Phæno
and alien, an extra-planetary mothership maybe or a mysterious is also remarkable as a showcase for the plastic possibilities
creature come to check out the lie of the land, ready to scoot at of concrete and the application of new technologies to make
a moment’s warning. Six of the cones support the box, while the the probably unlikely possible. The new technology came in
other four pierce the floorplate to sustain the complex swooping the form of self-compacting concrete in which chemical additives
steel framework supporting the roof. Slung over the interior’s are introduced into the concrete mix, significantly increasing
column-free landscape, this massive grid structure stands its workability without any resultant loss in strength.
in stark contrast to the fluid simplicity of the museum’s concrete Cast from 27,000 cubic metres of self-compacting concrete,
floors and walls. The cones also act to house functional spaces the physical reality of Phæno is that it is one of the world’s largest
like a bookstore, a conference room, a 250-seat theatre and examples of virtually hand-crafted, seamless insitu concrete –
the museum entrance inside the largest of them. as much landscape as architecture – comprising the 12,000sqm
Entering on a soaring escalator, visitors are transported up and main exhibition space above, a 15,000sqm underground carpark,
into an architectural interactive adventure playground where with the public plaza in between.
floors meld seamlessly into walls, to discover an inhabited Working in collaboration with engineers Adams Kara Taylor,
landscape of craters, caverns, terraces and plateaus in which to Hadid conceived the three spaces “of a piece” involving
explore thrilling themes from the world of science and technology. constructional realization that had been previously unattainable
in the conventional terms of supports, girders and roofing.
With spans up to 50 metres between the irregularly distributed
cones and with significant cantilevers reaching out to the
building’s perimeter, the project represented a unique challenge;
not only with the raised exhibition space twisting in plan
within a distorted 150metre x 90metre grid, but also with the
tapering and leaning cones adding eccentric loads into an already
complex equation.
AKT’s Paul Scott, describes Hadid’s concept as that of
a floor space melting down into the ten cones, with their geometry
undefined. “Without self-compacting concrete, the building’s
diverse plastic forms – its jagged angles, looming curves,
fractured planes and daring protrusions – would have been
difficult to achieve,” he says.
To satisfy the Hadid design team’s rigorous pursuit of authenticity
and structural efficiency, a computer modeling process was
developed, using AKT’s finite element analysis software, to
enable the complex forces within a single element to be resolved,
reducing the volume of the concrete to its absolute thinness.
“Without advances in computer modeling this would have been
virtually impossible a few years ago and the building would have
been engineered in the traditional manner, broken down and
engineered as separate structural systems which, when combined,
would have produced a significantly over-designed structure,
with walls twice as thick” Scott says.
“Instead, the cones, slab and façade act together as a single
structure. The façade is sometimes being supported by the slab,
and sometimes it is supporting the slab. The cone walls are
inclined up to 50º which blurs the boundary between walls and
floors.” This blurring also occurs in the relationship between
the cone and the slab. Although the cones are the main support
for the building, they also depend on the slab for restraint.
“The building is fooling itself a lot of the time,” Scott says.
Since the building was designed to appear as a single mass –
to simultaneously create space, void and structure, with walls
inclined up to 50º from vertical – the self-compacting admixture
in the concrete enabled continuous concrete pours of up to
seven metres high, for heavily reinforced walls just 300mm thick,
within timber formwork in which it would have been difficult
to use traditional compacting methods.
Continuous concrete supply was also crucial for the big pours,
as the admixture in the concrete has a tendency to accelerate
the hardening of the concrete. “The benefits outweighed trying
to use conventional mixes,” Scott says. “It produced a finish
that would have otherwise been impossible to achieve through
general construction techniques.” JR
issue 04 Phæno Science Centre

Forming the cones

The formwork for the cones consisted of planed boards, with the
joint pattern and nail positions of the trapezoidal boards specified
as accurately as the locations of the tie bar holes.
The prefabricated formwork elements were artificially aged with
a cement wash on site.
As the cones open out upwards, the outside formwork panels –
that is the exposed concrete formwork face – had to be erected
first and supported on the underside with heavy duty props.
The reinforcement was placed and tied together on this formwork
before the inner formwork panels were erected. The release
agent, a formwork wax which proved to be particularly weather-
resistant in several tests, was sprayed on to the formwork.
In view of the complicated shape of the reinforcement cage,
the spacer blocks for the starter bars for subsequent pours were
exactly positioned and fixed in place with the aid of templates.
The spacer blocks posed a problem for the exposed concrete
wall surface, whereby the weight of the reinforcement pressing
into the solid wood boards caused defects – spacer block pimples –
in the exposed concrete, which were very noticeable after
stripping. To tackle the problem, a detail was developed on site
that allowed the formwork tie bar cones to also act as spacers.
Excerpt from Exposed Concrete –
Technology and Design (Birkhauser 2005)
Paul Scott

issue 04 Phæno Science Centre

Project Statement
The process of achieving a well designed building involves
a considerable amount of time and effort in the details. Not just
the traditional notion of connection details but the material
details of the project and how they are put to use.
An example of this in the Phæno Science Centre project was
in the development of the design and construction of the cone
structures. The project involves the use of ten tapered cones
which rise from the foundation level to provide support to the raised
exhibition floor. At the main exhibition level, six of the supporting
cones terminate whilst the remaining four continue through to
support the roof level above. The result is a structural interaction
between the inclined surfaces of the walls and floors.
Each cone has a unique form and comprises of a plan geometry,
which varies in height. The cones provide the only structural
support to the building yet also house accommodation and
services and are thus penetrated and cut by openings in relation
to both these functions.
Given that the cones were constructed of insitu concrete with
the external face exposed, it was important architecturally
to cast the concrete in one continuous pour between external floor
plates to avoid visible pour lines on the exposed external surface.
This involved pours of seven metres high with walls inclined
up to 50º from the vertical.
This led to two immediate problems: The pressure of wet
concrete exerted on the formwork during the pour; and the control
of concrete compaction and finish, given the complexity of the
inclined walls and the extent of penetrations.
The first problem can be solved in the design of the shutters
both for the increased pressure and in the design and sealing
of joints to avoid bleeding.
The second problem is traditionally more difficult to solve and
would have involved guiding vibrators up the inside of the shutters
through a series of tubes in order to ensure adequate compaction
of the concrete. The complex opening profiles would have made
this process more difficult and together with the angle of the
inclined walls posed a risk to the as-struck finish. This led to
consideration of self compacting concrete as a means of dealing
with these problems.
Self compacting concrete is created by the use of chemical additives
introduced into the mix at the batching plant. It was originally
developed in the Far East for early strength gain but was
soon found to exhibit other properties which benefit the placing
and casting of the concrete.
It enhances the properties of the concrete by creating a mix
with high workability; maintaining a cohesive mix avoiding
segregation; reducing shrinkage through reduced water content;
increased durability; and increased strength.
The process to construct each cone was initiated by the erection
of the outer shell, followed by fixing of the reinforcement layers
and then the inner shell. Each form was completed between pour
levels together with all service and architectural void formers
prior to the pour.
As the concrete has a quicker setting period, it is important to
ensure that continuous supply of concrete is available to complete
the pour. Failure to do this will result in the formation of cold joints
(a higher risk in self-compacting concrete due to the quicker
setting times). The process worked well on site with few problems.
The formwork shutters were removed after three to four days,
with propping remaining in place until the upper floors had been
cast and the structure was tied together in its final form. All cones
used a plywood finish, which helped absorb some of the air which
would normally be trapped at the surface with a steel shutter.
Above ground level a further treatment was applied to the inside
of the timber form by using a pattern of vertical wood strips which
provided a further testament to the ability of self-compacting
concrete to allow the use of fine finishes on complex forms.
The main exhibition level takes support from the cones and
provides level changes via its own folding form. From ground level
the underside of the floor slab is exposed displaying a changing
waffle density. The waffles are laid out and concrete poured
over and around them to create a series of ribs and a floor slab
over but without the dead weight of a solid 900mm slab. Where
waffles can’t be seen, void formers are still used to reduce the
self weight of the slab. The form of the waffles is skewed to reflect
the overall geometry of the exhibition floor plate.
The pocket area bifurcates the main exhibition slab into a lower and
upper area. In this instance, the waffle floor takes the lower level
and is reflected in the exposed structure below and a thinner
solid slab rises to form the upper part of the pocket. The exhibition
floor cantilevers beyond the perimeter of the supporting cones
to the edge of the upper floor plate and provides support to the
perimeter walls and façade above.
Propping of the main exhibition floor was maintained until all
the cones and floor plate had been completed and the structure
was stable in its own right. As some of the cones were unstable
until the exhibition floor had been completed, the cones worked

as a group.
Zaha Hadid The steel roof structure consists of a fanning truss arrangement
based on a two-way spanning vierendeel which rises and
falls to create its own landscape. Support is taken from just four
of the concrete cones and the perimeter steelwork, providing
an exhibition space clear of obstructions.
Paul Scott – Adams Kara Taylor
issue 04 Phæno Science Centre

Science Centre
Germany 27

Project Phæno Science Centre

Location Wolfsburg, Germany
Architecture Zaha Hadid Architects
& Mayer Bahrle Freie Architekten
Project Architect Christos Passas (ZHA)
Structural Engineers Adams Kara Taylor with
Tokarz Frerichs Leipold
Project Engineer Paul Scott (AKT) with Lothar Leipold (TFL)
Services Consultant NEK & Buro Happold
Concrete Contractor Heitkamp
Lighting Contractor Fahlke & Dettmer, Germany;
Office for Visual Interaction, USA
Photographer Helene Binet