“Only the seasons count, and the seasons are what made you who you are, the ones you fed on as a boy,” Cesare Pavese wrote in The Moon and the Bonfires. The Experimenta research and science center of Heilbronn, in southern Germany, was founded in 2009 thanks to a partnership between the German municipality and the Dieter Schwarz Foundation, inside a massive building faced in clinker, constructed in 1936 as a warehouse on Kranen Insel.
In 2013 the Berlin-based firm Sauerbruch Hutton won the international competition for its expansion, implemented from 2015 to 2019. The operation is a success: it has changed the seasons of this place that now welcomes the sparks of a new vitality, the wonders of science approached in a friendly, young and stimulating way, also for those who are no longer kids.
In substance, 17,720 new square meters expand the possibilities for visitors to interact and conduct experiments, thanks to over 275 installations in a complex of about 25,000 square meters. The new building created by Sauerbruch Hutton has a particular architectural design and relates to the existing context, after crossing a small bridge, by means of a shared plaza and a connection below ground level, which contains special exhibit zones and technical spaces.
With a sculptural image that does not include the usual chromatic facade effects of Sauerbruch Hutton, the architecture rises five stories above ground level. Each floor is rotated slightly with respect to the one below it. The ground floor, containing the entrance foyer, is the place of the Science Dome, a large space for use as an auditorium, theater, cinema and planetarium, under a structural dome in aluminium with a diameter of 21.5 meters.
The four staggered upper levels are for thematic exhibition space and vertical circulation, developed with a dynamic helical design. The complex construction technique has made it possible to create free, unencumbered layouts. The result is a rich variety of perceptions, glimpses, perspectives, views, dilations and contractions, inscribed in the grammar of theme galleries (marked by a uniform bright red color), paths of connection and experimental laboratories.
The latter are housed inside opalescent glass prisms, gravitating as if stacked on the full-height central void, forming an enveloping horseshoe shape. Special effects like a curtain of water and spectacular electrical discharges amplify the immersive experience offered by the place, which has perceptible value in the opacity and transparency of the facades, paced by alternating infill of aluminium and glass to formulate introverted situations (conducive to concentration) and extroverted ones (taking in the panoramic views).
Effetti speciali integrati quali cortine d’acqua e spettacolari scariche elettriche amplificano l’esperienza immersiva proposta dal luogo, che ha un valore percepibile anche nell’opacità e nella trasparenza delle facciate, ritmate da tamponamenti alternati in alluminio e in vetro per potenziare dimensioni introverse (congeniali alla concentrazione sui contenuti in mostra) ed estroverse (ad abbracciare le vedute panoramiche).
In this sense the roof-terrace, together with the astronomical observatory and an auditorium, offers the finest vistas, over the Neckar Valley, the river to the east, the countryside covered by vineyards – a rural context of reference for the insertion of Experimenta.
Project Sauerbruch Hutton - Designers Matthias Sauerbruch, Louisa Hutton, Juan Lucas Young project manager Andrew Kiel, Peter Apel - Photos Roland Halbe