The Netherlands has an excellent reputation in the international world of science. Ector Hoogstad Architecten has won commissions to design many new buildings in Dutch universities and research institutes in recent years. DIFFER, the Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research located on the campus of Eindhoven University of Technology, is the latest in the series. The institute moved from Nieuwegein near Utrecht to its brand-new home in Eindhoven in May 2015.
Ector Hoogstad Architecten had a three-fold task when it came to designing the building. Firstly, the two main experimental halls full of highly specialised equipment had to be designed to very demanding specifications in close cooperation with the users. Secondly, DIFFER, as may be expected from an institute that deals with renewable energy, attaches great importance to sustainability and this had to be reflected in the design. Thirdly – and this was perhaps the most intrinsically architectural challenge – the building had to be designed not only to meet all technical and functional requirements but also to encourage encounters between the users of the building and with the wider campus community surrounding it.
We believe that this last-mentioned aspect is the one where we as architects can make the greatest contribution, by helping the researchers to get out of their ivory tower and mix with others. The resulting exchange of views and opinions can help to stimulate creative thinking, acting as a seed-bed for inspiration.
This aim was achieved in the case of the DIFFER building by extensive use of lines of sight to anchor the structure and by the provision of attractively designed communal facilities. A pivotal role is played by the above-mentioned two experimental halls, which are surrounded by ample circulation spaces including multi-storey atria. The heart of the building, comprising the main meeting places – two two-storey lounges combined with conference facilities, lecture theatres and the restaurant, which leads out on to the roof gardens on top of the experimental halls – is situated right about the key urban axis, De Zaale, that runs through the middle of the university. The north side of the building lies on one of the principal access routes to the campus. The main corridor through the building is situated right behind the transparent façade on this side of the building, giving occupants and passers-by a clear view of one another.
The building is the first laboratory building in the Netherlands to be awarded a BREEAM Excellent rating – no mean feat, largely achieved thanks to the consistent use of triple glazing and the mounting of solar cells on the entire roof area. The façade design is even more noteworthy in this connection, with individual solutions being devised for the different sides of the building: the north façade is designed for maximum transparency; the south façade is provided with eaves and roller blinds with extension arms to keep off the sun; while the east and west facades are given a sawtooth profile with alternating south-facing and north-facing sections. Vertical screens on the south-facing sections keep off the sun, while the north-facing sections are without sun blinds to ensure plenty of incident daylight and a good view of the surroundings.
The instantly recognisable design makes the building a landmark in the campus. Its form and the choice of the materials used in its construction are both contemporary and reminiscent of the architectural idiom of the 1950s and 60s that characterised the early days of the university. The wide use of glass and the profiled concrete elements that surround the building give it an air of combined gravitas and transparency. The interior is full of light and attractive greenery, bringing the idea of the campus – a fusion of scientific function and idyllic form – indoors.
The design was created in cooperation with IMd Raadgevende Ingenieurs as construction consultants, Deerns as installation consultants, Peutz as building physics consultants and IGG as costs consultants. The final responsibility for the design lay with Ector Hoogstad Architecten.