The Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, was the very first science museum of its kind in Germany when it opened its doors to visitors in November 2005. On completion, the building represented the biggest single investment made by the city to date. It occupies an important site at the centre of Wolfsburg, completing a chain of significant cultural buildings by Aalto, Scharoun and Schweger and connecting via a bridge across the Mittelland Kanal to Volkswagen’s car manufacturing city, Autostadt.
Concepts and designs for the building were inspired by the idea of magic box – a object capable of awakening curiosity and the desire for discovery in all who open or enter it.
From the moment of arrival, pedestrians and vehicles are pulled through an artificial landscape and into the building, which is structured in a way that maximizes its transparency and porosity – with the main volume, housing the exhibition space, raised and covering an outdoor public plaza. Here, amongst gently undulating man-made hills and valleys commercial and cultural functions are housed within the supporting concrete cones.
The landscape inside this ‘architectural adventure playground’ is every bit as surprising. Visitors find themselves in a crater-like landscape – a ‘wonderland’ containing 250 Experimental Stations, providing diagonal views onto different exhibition levels and protruding masses which accommodate a variety of back-of-house functions.
Prior to its opening, Zaha Hadid described the Phaeno as: ‘the most ambitious and complete statement of our quest for complex, dynamic and fluid spaces’. She also explained, that realization of its avant-garde design required methods and materials unattainable through conventional construction techniques: ‘This project combines formal and geometric complexity with structural audacity and material authenticity. A lot of time and energy was concentrated on achieving this result.’