The new Center for Virtual Engineering (ZVE) at the Stuttgart headquarters of the Fraunhofer Institute officially opened its doors for the first time on June 20. The unusual "prototype building," designed by Dutch architectural firm UNStusdio, has been awarded a gold certificate by German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB), but its main feature is the focus on communal space designed to foster a cooperative working environment.
Described by UNStudio as an "example of the role that architecture can play in the working environments of the future," the ZVE has been designed with engineers, specifically virtual engineers, very much in mind. Whatever images the name might conjure, virtual engineers are in the business of using computer modeling and simulation, and at the ZVE, research will focus on rapid prototyping, creative working and, er, "aftermath estimation" of new products - whatever that is.
UNStudio's design has attempted to blur the traditional boundaries between work areas, breakout areas and circulation areas. How? Laboratories have direct access to a "communication area" and share offices with one another; and, in an attempt to encourage inter-disciplinary working, the building isn't segregated into departments.
It's green too. The building uses BubbleDeck rather than traditional concrete floor slabs, a technology which employs hollow plastic balls constrained within a mesh. This results in considerable weight reductions that reduce the need for supporting columns. The lack of ceiling lintels that would otherwise be required allows for taller windows which throw daylight deeper into the building, which in turn allows energy savings by reducing need for electric lighting. The roof lights don't hurt, either.
The building is cooled by means of concrete core activation. Cold water is piped from the sprinkler tank on the roof through the building's structure, drawing heat from the space.
Other environmentally-friendly design measures that doubtless contributed to the green certificate include the wide use of recyclable (but not recycled) materials, a green roof, openable windows for natural ventilation and exterior facades that are only 32-percent glazed.