Tuesday, June 5, 2007


In Zaha Hadid’s own words…

“One idea I have been exploring in recent projects is porosity: drawing public space into a building’s interior to make a series of public rooms in the city… porosity suggests a new kind of urbanism, composed of streams or flows of movement that cut through the city fabric”

“In our Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany, for instance, multiple threads of pedestrian and vehicular circulation are pulled through an artificial landscape and into the building, creating intersecting paths of movement. The building is structured in such a way that it maintains a large degree of transparency and porosity at the ground level. The main volume, the exhibition space, is raised over an outdoor public plaza.”

“The Phaeno Science Center…… is conceived as a mysterious object giving rise to curiosity and discovery. The visitor is faced with a degree of complexity and strangeness… an alien but simultaneously coherent landscape comes into existence.”

My analysis…

The Phaeno Science center is a hands on science museum that promotes exploration and discovery. Given this is its purpose, I think the concept of a “mysterious object”, a place that encourages exploration and discovery, is quite appropriate for an interactive place such as this.

The science center is an interesting project. On first approach, it appears as a massive concrete structure that is raised up off the ground on cone shaped concrete volumes. The massiveness of the volume is broken down by an irregular series of openings in the façade. As you near the structure, you are funneled into the center of the project by multiple circulation paths which all seem to pull the visitor into the center of the project. This is similar to many other Zaha Hadid projects, where she seems to have a strong desire transform traditionally closed and private spaces (the traditional museum courtyard, for example) into public civic spaces for the city.

The project explores a number of themes that is consistent throughout Zaha Hadid’s work. One of these ideas is the manipulation of the ground plane. At Phaeno, this sculpted landscape of the ground plane helps to create a new kind of urban space, one that aids in the circulation of the site. Hadid seems to be consistently looking to redefine how we inhabit space in the urban environment. On this level, the project is very successful, as it engages with the circulation flows of its context in a direct way. The building becomes a sort of filter for the city, as it encourages circulation through the site. Most of the circulation passing through the structure is geared toward those who are headed to Volkswagen’s auto theme park, to which this project helps connect. Wolfsburg, where Phaeno is located, is the company town for Volkswagen.

Another idea explored here is that of interwoven spaces. While not as important here as in other Zaha Hadid projects, there are instances where spaces are interwoven together. As you pass below the building, you are constantly given glimpses up into the structure. You can see into the books store, get a glimpse at the main reception desk, look into the café, and at one point even look up into the main museum space itself. This layering of space is another theme that seems to run throughout many of Zaha Hadid’s projects.

Finally, circulation seems to always play a big role in Zaha Hadid’s work, and it is no different here. The circulation of this city is so important here that there are physical lines drawn through the project on the ground. One line starts at the door of the adjacent train station, and traces a path through the project to the bridge leading to the Volkswagen town.

The use of light is a key aspect for the circulaton through the site. One is encouraged to pass below the raised building partially by the use of light, which draws you through the structure. It is quite dark below the structure, but at all times there is a conncetion through light to draw you on to you destination.

“The use of darkness will be a key to the unique experience of the Science Center. Light and shadow offer an opportunity to provide a visual and guiding system through the building by creating paths of light and focal points.”

Another interesting aspect of the project is the cone shaped concrete structure. At the ground level, the structure functions as an entrance, café, temporary exhibition gallery, museum shop, and theater space. The structure tapers and widens at it rises, providing occupiable spaces for the interior of the museum above.

While I enjoyed this project quite a bit, and I really appreciate the direct attempt to connect architecture to the public urban environment, some questions still remain. I am not sure how the public space below the building will be used. I spent a good deal of time in this cave-like space trying to figure out how it gets used as a public space. It seems to work very well as a space of movement, as a lot of people do use it as a circulation space. But it is kind of dark, and there are no places to rest or sit, and so it doesn’t really function as an inhabitable urban space, only as a dramatic urban circulation path. The day I visited the project, both the temporary Exhibition space, and the café below the building were closed, so maybe the space is more lively when these spaces are open, but I kind of felt like I was inhabiting a strange and interesting cave, but not a place I would sit and rest and enjoy myself in.

I also felt like some of the detailing of the project was overlooked. It may have been that the form itself was so expensive to build that there was nothing left for finishing the project, but I kind of feel like up close, some of the detailing and finishes could have been a bit more elegant. Some of this could be just the imperfect nature of concrete as a building material, but I wanted some of the material connections to be handled differently.


  1. It's just so weird to see one of her buildings actually existing in the real world. I'm not suprised that the dark public space wasn't comfortable, either...but maybe she thinks it is!

  2. Zaha Hadid... when virtual become real... i've seen this builiding, and the experience was fantastic ! I'm making a modelisation of it, and i will share some picture of it on my blog...soon (im a french student in architecture)

    good blog !