As an inclusive and playful extension of science and technology curricula in primary schools, the Experimentarium in Hellerup brings scientific matters to eye-level for the young and young-at-heart.
Af Margarida N. Waco
Ever since the Experimentarium first opened in 1991, it has evoked a profound curiosity in many children — a curiosity toward science and technology with the purpose of bridging the gap between science and embodied intuitive learning. The Experimentarium is committed to providing a breeding ground for future education and the public’s interest in science; its very existence is a model of this garnered interest, as generous donations from leading foundations in the industry have made the project possible.
After seeing increased attention from industrial and educational institutions around Denmark in recent years, the center called for a new design proposal and refurbishment of existing facilities that could support future exhibitions and activities. Aarhus-based firm CEBRA proposed a strategy that would couple a historic red-brick building that had previously served as a bottling hall for the Tuborg Brewery with a new, contemporary expression. Envisioning a building of equal parts innovation, creativity and learning, this design for the Experimentarium not only doubled exhibition spaces but resulted also in spatial qualities that stretch outside the building itself and into society.
The aim of the design is a radical change of Experimentarium’s architectural expression. From previously being an introvert building to now appearing as an extrovert, engaging and vibrant attraction.
— Kolja Nielsen, founding partner at CEBRA
CEBRA’s main concept for refurbishment stacks perforated aluminum panel-covered boxes, enabling ventilation and emphasizing a narrative around the flow of fluids such as air. The building is not only designed to house 16 different interactive exhibitions, but equally to meet the demands of future exhibitions and activities, and thereby future-proof the center as a whole.
The insertion of stacked boxes, staggered and ranging in size and scale, results in a rather distinct expression; a dynamic, vertical extension expressed through the elegant combination of the existing and a new, contemporary vocabulary.
In order to create a high level of transparency in the building, large window panels are introduced in the facade, creating a fairly strong connection to the world outside — an important paradigm shift for an Experimentarium newly invited to reflect on its role in society.
Within the building though, an insight into two different worlds — one of adults and professionals and one of children — was made possible through large window panels repeated in an equal rhythm inside. When workspaces eventually look out over the exhibition space, a visual connection between the users and the administrative employees across the building is created.
The Experimentarium integrates workshop facilities, workspaces, a restaurant, a conference center, and offers two large, open exhibition spaces on separate floors. Technical levels are introduced in the exhibition spaces as an important feature, allowing flexibility and a theatre-like dynamic that has not been seen before at the Experimentarium and supporting the need for changeable set pieces.
Furthermore, CEBRA’s design strategy features two idiosyncratic staircases that enable flow and circulation throughout the building. As an architectural centerpiece, the Helix staircase proudly arises in the grand atrium and welcomes its entering audience. Clad with no less than 10 tonnes of copper and inspired by the structure of a DNA molecule, the staircase has become synonymous with the center. The Vector staircase, located in the back of the building, connects the two new exhibition spaces and is likewise inspired by the world of science — in this case, mathematics and the narrative of the shortest distance between two points. Together, the staircases serve as an architectural manifestation of science and technology.
The redesign of the center has enabled 16 different interactive exhibitions spread out across two floors on open-plan rooms. Keeping the exhibition spaces open with no distinct spatial features, the architects ensured a great level of changeability and made it possible for specialists and exhibition designers within the Experimentarium to reach their own spatial decisions in relation to the many different scientific universes that will find their way into the center in the future.
Many of these exhibition spaces call for specially designed interiors such as the Tunnel of Senses, where children are given insights into the many different aspects of the human life — from cradle to grave, so to speak — by walking through an interactive tunnel. Another example currently being exhibited is the world’s first interactive cinema, developed via a collaboration with the Canadian science center Science North. The cinema is a response to debates on the role that inactive entertainment channels and devices play in our daily lives. Through activity, collaboration, and participation, the exhibition seeks to inspire children and parents to reflect on habits and their own reality.
Finally, juxtaposing bodily engagement in relation to learning, the Experimentarium becomes a meaningful supplement to schools around the country. The center offers new perspectives on science and technology and brings a playful approach adapted to the different phases of childhood into play. As a tribute to the world of science, the Experimentarium presents a distinct meeting between cultural heritage and new, innovative technology — a meeting between the past and the future. By introducing architectural features inspired by the world of science, the center itself serves as a homage to science and technology.