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Polychrome Experiment: Wrapped in a bold candy-striped skin, this new research institute combines the rational and romantic to stimulate intercourse between academia and industry.

The young Anglo-German partnership of Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton is acquiring a reputation for architecture characterized by formal experimentation, environmental awareness and an uninhibited use of colour. Mundane buildings types -- factories, offices and research laboratories -- are transformed and elevated by this consistently inventive approach. Projects such as the Photonics Centre (AR December 1999) and the GSW offices (AR December 2000), both in Berlin, are resourceful responses to site and programme, exhibiting a structural polychromy that generates a provocative ambiguity between the visual and the physical.

Sauerbruch Hutton's assertion that their architecture is guided by the modern instinct of wanting to make reality work', while also exploring the more sensuous properties of materials and colour, clearly informs their most recent commission, an Experimental Factory in Magdeburg (EFM). Housing a research institute dedicated to developing, testing and marketing new cladding technologies, the building sits on the edge of the Otto von Guericke University campus. Formerly in the GDR, Magdeburg's social and economic fortunes have languished since reunification. Underpinning its research function, the EFM brings together academics and private sector product developers with the aim of improving the city's currently limited employment opportunities.

Confronting a busy four lane motorway, the building joins an existing institute and the site of a proposed further development on the south-eastern campus edge. The building consists of three parts: a five-storey structure overlooking the motorway with cellular rooms for offices and laboratories, and a testing space to assess the effects of electromagnetic fields, its walls surreally studded with conical protrusions to dissipate electromagnetic force. These volumes wrap around a central single-storey hall (7-10m high) used for large-scale experiments. A double-height internal street runs along the west side of the office volume uniting the offices physically and visually with the testing hall. Bands of glazing provide glimpses into the hall's cavernous interior, both at ground floor level and from a first floor gallery. The orientation and open-endedness of the internal street forms a public route that threads together the existing and proposed research institutes like beads on a string.

The three volumes are enveloped by an undulating skin of sheet aluminium cladding that drapes languidly over the building like a candy-striped blanket. Colour comes vividly into play with bands of pink, orange and silver forming a striated, kaleidoscopic coating that looks good enough to eat. The flowing contours reflect and resolve the different scales of the various parts of the building. The combination of these heterogeneous elements in a single, compact form contrives to improve thermal performance and lower energy consumption. The roof projects over the north and south ends of the building, which are treated as cut edges clad in sheets of translucent glass, providing protection against glare and solar gain. Windows on the east side are double-glazed to reduce sound transmission from the adjacent motorway, but both the outer and inner panes can be opened for ventilation. Solar shading devices in the internal cavity also reduce heat gain. Even when open, the windows reduce sound transmission from the road to the office and laboratory spaces by around 8-10 decibels.

The east wing has a central service spine of vertical ducts from which the laboratories are supplied with services. Ducts are easily accessible, simplifying initial installation as well as any subsequent changes to services. Generous duct depths (850mm) also enable the potential retrofitting of laboratory equipment should extensive ventilation systems be required.

The deliberately orchestrated contrast between the functional laboratories and their colourful skin -- between the rational and the romantic -- has become a familiar theme of Sauerbruch Hutton's work. Psychologically, the effects of the partnership's preoccupation with polychromy must be, at the very least, to lift spirits and perhaps even help stimulate feats of innovation. Providing a civilized forum for research, the EFM is also a conspicuous affirmation of Magdeburg's renewal.


Sauerbruch Hutton Architects, London/Berlin

Project team

Matthias Sauerbruch, Louisa Hutton, Andrew Kiel, Marcus Hsu, Philip Engelbrecht, Barbara Suter, Mehmet Dogu, Bettina Pinks

Structural engineer



Gerrit Engel

1 Offices and labs on the east side of the building have double-glazed but openable windows set into the candy-striped aluminium skin.

2 The five-storey offices form a bulwark along eastern edge of site.

3 Clad in translucent-glass, north and south facades are treated as cut ends.

4 The striped cladding undulates expressively over the building, like an enveloping blanket, uniting the various volumes.

5 Internal street at ground floor level. Colour also animates and energizes the interior.
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Article Details
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Author:Slessor, Catherine
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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