The Science Center, the first of its kind in Germany, appears as a mysterious object, giving rise to curiosity and discovery. The visitor is faced with a degree of complexity and strangeness, which is ruled however by a very specific system of structural organization. Located on a very special site in the City of Wolfsburg it is set both as the endpoint of a chain of important cultural buildings (by Aalto, Scharoun and Schweger) as well as being a connecting link to the north bank of the Mittelland Kanal ?Volkswagen?s Autostadt.
Multiple threads of pedestrian and vehicular movement are pulled through the site both on an artificial ground landscape and inside and through the building, effectively composing an interface of movement-paths.
Volumetrically, the building is structured in such a way that it maintains a large degree of transparency and porosity on the ground since the main volume, the exhibition-scape, is raised thus covering an outdoor public plaza with a variety of commercial and cultural functions which reside in the structural concrete cones.
An artificial crater like landscape is developed inside the open exhibition space allowing diagonal views to the different levels of the exhibition-scape, while volumes, which protrude, accommodate other functions of the science center. A glazed public wormhole-like extension of the existing bridge flows through the building allowing views to and from the exhibition space.
The ph?no exhibition space, resting on conic supports and sublimely illuminated, emerged clearly victorious from an international competition in 2000. The London-based architect has devised a truly impressive home for ph?no, enthroned high above street-level. It liberates the area beneath it as a new kind of urban space in the form of a covered artificial landscape with gently undulating hills and valleys. Its interior, at a height of seven metres, opens up an architectural adventure playground, a constructional wonderland shaped by craters, caverns, terraces and plateaux, the exciting location for 250 Experimental Stations on thrilling themes from the world of science and technology.
The avant-garde architectural design entailed a constructional realisation that has been unattainable in the conventional terms of supports, girders and roofing, but has called for a sculptural, plastic moulding that is "of a piece". The achievement of such a complex structure has been just as much a feat of logistics as it represents a static and constructional masterpiece. In contrast to the widely used, standard method of building with concrete, mostly with the help of flat formwork systems, ph?no is distinguished by the predominant use of individually fabricated formwork elements and special cast-in-situ concrete. ph?no is the largest building constructed from "self-compacting concrete" (SCC) to date in Europe and will therefore be significant as a reference object. Without the new type of concrete, the diverse forms of ph?no ? its jagged angles, looming curves, fractured planes and daring protrusions ? would have been difficult to achieve. As a trailblazing work of architecture, the project has written a chapter of technical history. Formwork elements were necessary with which one could have covered nine football fields ? concrete that would have filled a cube with 30-metre sides and that has been reinforced with iron as heavy as 5,000 small cars.
ph?no, just as much a place of leisure and recreation as one of informal learning, belongs to the international genre of Science Centres. The municipal project opens its universe to the public directly next to the ICE rail station in Wolfsburg, opposite the Autostadt erected by Volkswagen. Its form is programmatic: the world of ph?no recognises no distinct boundaries, its dynamic landscape awakens the sense of wonder and kindles the zest for discovery. The dynamic structure of this experimental environment is constructed animation, curiosity made concrete. "The zest of discovery" ? the innovative city of Wolfsburg has now been given a new landmark.