By Margarida N. Waco
Learning combined with great amusement is the main concept behind the newly reopened Experimentarium centre north of Copenhagen. As an inclusive and playful counterpart to curriculums in primary schools and known for its profound focus on science and technology, the centre brings scientific matters to an eye level for the youngest.
Ever since the Experimentarium first opened in 1991, it has evoked a profound curiosity amongst many children. A curiosity towards science and technology with the purpose of bridging the gap between science and bodily, intuitive learning. The Experimentarium is committed to provide a breeding ground for future education and interest within this field whereby generous donations from various leading foundations in the industry has made the project possible.
After being subject to an increased interest from the professional industry and educational institutions around the country the last couple of years, the centre called for a new design solution and refurbishment of existing facilities that could support future exhibitions and activities. Aarhus based firm, Cebra, had the solution to this and proposed a strategy that coupled a historical redbrick building, which served as bottling halls for the Tuborg Brewery in the past, with a new and contemporary expression. Envisioning a building that is equal parts innovation, creativity and learning, the design of the Experimentarium not only resulted in a doubling of exhibition space, but also in multiple spatial qualities that stretches outside the building itself and into society.
“The aim of the design is a radical change of Experimentarium’s architectural expression. From previously being an introvert building to now appearing as an extrovert, engaging and vibrant attraction.” – Kolja Nielsen, founding partner at Cebra.
Cebra’s main concept for refurbishment utilizes stacked boxes covered with perforated aluminium panels, enabling ventilation and emphasizes a narrative of the flow of air and fluids. The building is not only designed to unfold 16 different interactive exhibitions, but equally to meet the demands of future exhibitions and activities, and thereby future-proof the centre as a whole.
The insertion of stacked boxes, staggered and ranging in size and scale, results in a rather distinct expression; a dynamic, vertical extension expressed through the elegant combination of the existing and the new, contemporary vocabulary.
In order to create a high level of transparency in the building, large window panels are introduced in the facade creating a fairly strong connection to the world outside. An important paradigm shift for the new Experimentarium that was forced to reflect on its role in society.
Within the building though, an insight into two different worlds – one of adults and professionals and one of children – was made possible through large window panels equally repeated inside. When workspaces eventually overlook the exhibition space, a visual connection between the users and the administrative employees across the building is created.
The Experimentarium also integrates workshop facilities, workspaces, a restaurant, a conference centre, and eventually offers two large, open exhibition spaces on separate floors. Technical floors are introduced in the exhibition spaces as an important feature, allowing flexibility and a theatre like dynamic that has not been seen before at the Experimentarium, but support the need for changeable sceneries.
Furthermore, Cebra’s design strategy features two characteristic staircases enabling flow and circulation throughout the building. As an architectural centerpiece, the Helix staircase proudly arises in the grand atrium and welcomes the audience when entering. Clad with no less than 10 tonnes of copper and inspired by the structure of a DNA molecule, the staircase has become synonymous with the centre. The Vector staircase, located in the back of the building, connects the two new exhibition spaces, and is likewise inspired by the world of science – in this case, mathematics and the narrative of the shortest distance between two points. Together, the staircases serve as an architectural manifestation of science and technology.
The redesign of the centre has enabled 16 different interactive exhibitions spread out on wide-open rooms on two floors. Maintaining the exhibition spaces as open with no distinct spatial features, the architects ensured a great level of changeability and made it possible for specialists and exhibition designers within the Experimentarium to make their own spatial decisions in relation to the many different scientific universes that in the future will find their way into the centre.
Many of these exhibition spaces call for specially designed interiors such as the Tunnel of Senses; where children are given insights into the many different aspects of the human life – from cradle to grave, so to speak – by walking through an interactive tunnel. Another example currently being exhibited is the world’s first interactive cinema developed in a collaboration with the Canadian science centre Science North. The cinema is a response to the debates on how big a role inactive entertainment channels and devices play in our daily lives. Through activity, collaboration and participatory, the exhibition seeks to inspire children and parents to reflect on habits and own reality.
Finally, juxtaposing bodily engagement in relation to learning, the Experimentarium becomes a meaningful supplement to schools around the country. The centre offers new perspectives on science and technology and brings a playful approach highly adapted to the different phases of a childhood into play. As a tribute to the world of science, the Experimentarium presents a distinct meeting between cultural heritage and new, innovative technology – a meeting between the past and the future, and by introducing architectural features inspired by the world of science, the centre itself serves as a homage to science and technology.