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World-class architecture joins high-level sustainability at new Vienna university

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February 19, 2014

View along the main pedestrian route with buildings by Hitoshi Abe (left), BUSarchitektur ...

View along the main pedestrian route with buildings by Hitoshi Abe (left), BUSarchitektur (right) and Zaha Hadid (center) (Image: Campus WU/boanet)

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The new campus of the WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) is a like a smorgasbord of 21st century architecture, with signature buildings by Zaha Hadid Hitoshi Abe and Estudio Carme Pinós, among others. But the world-class campus has equally high standards for energy efficiency and sustainability.

Though the buildings of the 100,000 square-meter (1 million sq-ft) campus were created by a roster of international talent, the master plan was conceived by the Viennese office of BUSarchitektur in partnership with BOA (büro für offensive aleatorik, or "Studio for Offensive Randomness"). BUS also designed the Teaching Center.

WU campus (Image: Campus WU/Johannes Zinner)

The school opened in October 2013 to 25,000 students and 1,500 faculty, but its green energy ethos was in place well beforehand, as work was carried out according to Guidelines for Sustainable Construction. These include environmentally-friendly logistics and the reduction of traffic, dust and pollution during building.

Energy and Sustainability

Sustainability and a holistic approach were key factors in the designs, as were "green building" guidelines, which follow international certification requirements. Since it opened in October 2013, the school has been meeting between 60 and 70 percent of its energy needs for heating and cooling through geothermal systems (which uses the energy produced by the change in temperature from water pumped from below ground). Heat recovery units in all buildings have an efficiency rate of 75 percent. Heating, ventilation and cooling are carefully monitored and calibrated according to demand. Green roofs were installed wherever possible.

The campus plan for ecological urbanism also includes 9,900 sq m (106,000 sq ft) of bushes and plants as well as 1,600 sq m (17,000 sq ft) of lawn, and 1,000 secure bicycle spaces. Lighting sensors in the university buildings not only detect whether rooms are vacant or occupied, but in some cases they gauge how much natural light is available, reducing the amount of artificial illumination being used. Classrooms and meeting rooms receive natural light from external windows and from interior atrium spaces.

Communal spaces and interaction

According to the team from BUSarchitekten, the overarching aim of the concept was to create a campus that encouraged social interaction. This is why the new buildings are aligned along the central pedestrian boulevard, or "walk along the park." Spaces between and around buildings have been designed with seating and planting, including several plazas and a light garden.

So determined was the team to ensure maximum personal contact that the underground parking was designed to expel people into the communal open spaces, rather than allow them to enter their own buildings, unnoticed, below ground. More than half of the whole area, about 55,000 sq m (540,000 sq ft), has been devoted to open or communal space.

The Learning Center, Zaha Hadid

The centerpiece of the campus is the Learning Center, designed by Zaha Hadid. The building is wrapped in Hadid’s signature sweeping curves with an upper volume projecting out toward the pedestrian path. In addition to holding the library, the building houses lounge spaces and various types of meeting rooms. These are contained in separate enclosed volumes that are similarly curved and transversed by angled walkways and lines of windows so that they resemble a group of cruise liners docking together around a towering center hall.

Interior of the Learning Center, by Zaha Hadid (Image: Campus WU/boanet)

Striking white and pristine formwork concrete make this a bright, rather majestic space, and certainly one that draws some attention to the overall cost of the campus, said to be around €500 million (US$ 685 million). What is less obvious is the fact that, according to the engineers, the building is about ten times more energy-efficient than standard buildings of a similar size.

The Executive Academy, NO.MAD Arquitectos

The skewed geometries of the Executive Academy by NO.MAD arquitectos (Image: Campus WU/boa...

The distinctive black and silver Executive Academy building for researchers and mature students anchors the western end of the campus promenade. Designed by Madrid-based NO.MAD, the building appears as an irregular stack of blocks. The facade is covered in glass and aluminum, materials used to create degrees of transparency and reflection. Window patterns appear to follow the lines of a maze, or a circuit board, but were calculated according to an algorithm program.

Windows all have thermal protection and light-filtering systems. Inside, soaring window sections and pure concrete contrast with mirrored panels so that some rooms have a stark, cathedral-like atmosphere. The seven floors offer 18,000 sq m (194,000 sq ft) of teaching and learning spaces.

The Administration and Law building, CRAB studio

The Administration and Law building is a more lively and linear complex, designed by London’s CRAB (Cook Robotham Architectural Bureau) studio. However, this structure looks like it might have been conceived in the sunny climes of Santa Fe, New Mexico, rather than under the gray skies of northern Europe.

Administration and Law complex, by CRAB studio (Image: CRAB studio)

Painted vivid blood orange, which graduates to pale clementine, topped by lemon yellow and cream, the building wears a screen of rough timber planks. The planks are meant to act as sun screens and refer to the nearby Prater Woods. Sir Peter Cook, of CRAB, was a founding member of Archigram, the avant-garde British design group of the 1960s, and seems to have maintained his love of the visually provocative here.

Departmental Building, Estudio Carme Pinós

The Departmental building by Estudio Carme Pinós (Image: Campus WU/boanet)

No less striking, though less colorful, the Departmental building by Estudio Carme Pinós plays with rigid geometries. Windows and casements in gray metal flow in a zig-zag pattern over white walls. These patterned volumes alternate with solid gray orthogonal sections, all joined by a curved central form. Stepped and circular cut-out shapes are used throughout the interior, demonstrating some of Pinós’ trademark attention to quirky details. To help maintain internal temperatures, window shutters open and close automatically according to solar conditions.

Teaching Center and Auditorium building, BUS architektur

BUSarchitektur won the competition, with BOA, for the master plan of the site, so it is probably fitting that their building is one of two forming the main entrance of the campus. With a skin of weathered Cor-Ten steel, it resembles a cake dusted in cocoa powder. The monolithic structure is broken up into sections of steel with layers of recessed windows.

Interior of the auditorium within the Cor-Ten steel building by BUSarchitektur (Image: Cam...

The Center is home to the main auditorium, which is also clad in steel and sits within a large atrium space, making a feature of the Cor-Ten cladding. Stairs and ramps run up through the atrium, lead out of the building and up to the roof garden, continuing gestures of social interaction and open access.

Student Center and Departments Building, Atelier Hitoshi Abe

The Student Center, by Hitoshi Abe (Image: Campus WU/boanet)

The elongated slender sections of the Student Center building were inspired by the layers of French millefeuille pastry, according to the architects, and are meant to give the impression of permeability. Ribbons of black and white sections (the darkened window glass alternating with thin bands of the facade) and the curved forms do give the building a delicate impact.

Designed by Japanese architect Hitoshi Abe, the duo-chrome complex serves multiple functions, with long segments joined by long slender atrium spaces. These spaces are meant to promote communal activity, as well as providing corridors of natural light.

Source: Vienna University of Economics and Business

About the Author
Phyllis Richardson Phyllis is an architecture and design writer based in London. She champions the small and sustainable and has published several books, including the XS series (XS, XS Green, XS Future) and Nano House. In her spare time she ponders the impact of the digital world on the literary.   All articles by Phyllis Richardson
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