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School of science.

Erick van Egeraat's block of laboratories for Leiden University combines dynamic forms and basic materials to create striking visual and textural contrasts.

Leiden is one of the Netherlands' most respected universities, with a reputation for scientific precision and intellectual rigour. Its physics and astronomy laboratories were once the base for Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, the distinguished scientist who first discovered the temperature of absolute zero at the end of last century. Originally housed in the historic centre of Leiden, the laboratories now occupy a set of featureless blocks on the university's 1960s edge of town campus. Erick van Egeraat was asked to design a new building that would extend the existing Huygens Laboratories and unify the surrounding blocks.

Van Egeraat saw the commission as a chance to express the spirit of open mindedness and enquiry that had informed the university's development. Organized around a simple L-shaped plan, the new building contains laboratories, offices, a small lecture theatre and canteen. Offices and laboratories are separated into two distinct formal elements, a narrow six-storey block and a low slung double-height hall that intersect at right angles. The walls of the six-storey office block are inclined forward at an angle of 10 degrees, giving the building a sleek, dynamic quality, reinforced by elongated strips of glazing. The tilted walls also permit a greater influx of daylight into the office interiors. With a limited palette of basic materials, van Egeraat orchestrates a rich visual tension between mass, lightness, texture and colour. Main elevations are faced in zinc bands of varying widths, the weathered patina of metal contrasting both with raw in-situ concrete on the short ends of the block, and the screen-printed glazing used to clad the lab building.

The new building is connected to the existing Huygens Laboratories by a stack of glazed bridges that dock into the angular volume of the office block. Communal facilities, such as the canteen and lecture theatre are at ground level, around a central circulation spine. Van Egeraat's material invention is also apparent in the undulating acoustic ceiling of the 150 seat lecture theatre, made from strips of Oregon pine.

The laboratory volume is conceived as a pragmatic industrial hall, enveloped by a gently curved roof that adds to the dynamism of the overall composition. Its muscular steel-framed structure (separate from that of the offices), is designed to eliminate vibrations that might corrupt sensitive experiments. The crisply detailed translucent cladding alludes to the dexterity and precision of scientific instrument makers, whose traditional skills established the university's reputation. Van Egeraat is perhaps best known for his ability to synthesize voluptuous organic forms with a sensuous materiality (for instance the ING bank headquarters in Budapest, AR July 1995), but Leiden reveals a more formal, even understated, approach and a determination to evoke the pragmatic complexities of a challenging academic programme.

Architect Erick van Egeraat

Project team Erick van Egeraat; Kerstin Hahn, Ard Buijsen, Perry Klootwijk, Paul-Martin Lied, Ineke Dubbledam, Alexandre Lamboley, Aukje Hendrikx, Nathalie de Vries

Structural engineer ABT

Mechanical and electrical engineer Sweegers & de Bruijn

Photographs Christian Richters
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Leiden University's physics and astronomy laboratories
Author:Van Cleef, Connie
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Words:509
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