Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology

By Catherine Langer

Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, Herzog & de Meuron
Iwan Baan
 

With its distinct circular shape, sensible materials and series of publicly accessible courtyards, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology is the centerpiece of a high-tech community outside Moscow.

Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) is a new university building in Moscow, Russia, designed by Swiss architecture office Herzog & de Meuron. It is located in Skolkovo, the Russian government’s initiative for a new urban high-tech community outside Moscow. After five years of construction, the school is now open to students.

Skolkovo is a new high-tech urban community within Moscow’s third ring, 17 kilometers west of the Kremlin. As a prototype for future society, the hub is a center for 21st-century technology, with office buildings, laboratories, fitness centers and stores, all sustainably built and energy-efficient. The new facilities are all built ex-nihilo, as the very first buildings in this area; besides the university, other buildings in Skolkovo include David Adjaye’s Moscow School of Management, built in 2010.

Based on the master plan for Skolkovo, the area should comprise five districts, each specializing in a different area: IT, energy, nuclear technologies, biomedicine, and space technologies. Each district is designed by a different architect; Herzog & de Meuron designed the conceptual master plan for District 3, with the new university building as its centerpiece. Like urban islands in the landscape, the division into districts should ensure diversity in the new community’s character and atmosphere.

Skoltech takes shape as a massive, partially filled ring with a diameter of 280 meters. The building consists of three circular shapes: the East Ring, the Agora, and the West Ring. Its outer ring accommodates the building’s faculty offices, administration areas, and meeting spaces, while the inner rings house the teaching and learning facilities, with the main auditorium as the central crossing point. A large basement expands underneath the building, accommodating support and technical amenities, while a jigsaw roof-line cuts across the construction and unites the entire structure.

Besides its organization of interlocked circular rings, Skoltech is divided into a rational grid of 7 by 7 meters of rectangular and repetitive blocks. The blocks house the university’s laboratories and workshops and have uniform widths of 21 or 28 meters with varying lengths. All lab blocks are oriented east-west to provide optimal daylight conditions for lab work, while the repetitive orthogonal grid layout provides efficiency and simplicity to the otherwise circular building structure.

In the blocks’ overlay and interaction with the rings, new spaces appear with interesting architectural qualities. The three rings circumscribe and penetrate the blocks, dividing the larger spaces into smaller niches, which creates an interesting flow through the building. The circular shape connects the many blocks into one sculptural loop that shapes the boulevard on the outside.

Although the building appears monolithic, it contains several openings at street level that lead the public into a network of courtyards. The courtyards diverge in size and identity and are connected via similarly varied passages, which either pass beneath the building’s rings or carve themselves through the corners of the blocks. The largest of the courtyards, the ‘Central Yard’, is visible from both rings and most of the blocks as the main destination for larger ceremonies and meetings. Together, the courtyards and paths create a porous experience of the large building structure and play an important role in terms of how the university meets the surrounding city and nature areas.

Skoltech is clad with fins of Siberian larch that both control the daylight and unify the facades with overall texture and depth. Otherwise, the rings and the blocks vary in their materials both inside and outside. While the rings have a natural oak floor and wall systems in the interior, the blocks have industrial vinyl floor and aluminum wall systems in the labs, as well as white aluminum fins in the exterior. At its base, the building is unified by a continuous concrete bench, which creates human-scaled meeting places and invites people to sit close to the building.

The large gesture of the circular shape; the strict grid of lab blocks; and the rich details in spatiality, materials, light, and texture together create a new landmark building. Skoltech both provides global attention to the development of Skolkovo and creates sensible experiences for students and Skolkovo’s residents on a human scale. In the ongoing development of the new community, the university sets a high bar with its ability to be simultaneously monumental and permeable.