An outside view of CERN Science Gateway ; An outside view of CERN Science Gateway ;

CERN Science Gateway, Geneva

Creating a new landmark to inspire future scientists

As part of its mission to educate and inspire people with the wonder of science, CERN wanted to create a new scientific education and outreach centre in Geneva, Switzerland. They turned to Arup to help engineer the Science Gateway, a 7,000mnew centre of inspirational exhibition spaces, laboratories for hands-on scientific experiments, and a large auditorium to host science events for experts and non-experts alike. Inspired by the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, the new centre opened to the public in 2023, quickly becoming a prominent city landmark visible during both day and night.

The Science Gateway was conceived with research, planet and people at its heart. We worked closely with Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) to integrate the creativity that characterises the world of science into its architecture without compromising the environment. The design minimises materials, prioritises the use of less carbon intensive solutions and incorporates a bespoke lighting system to reduce its impact on the environment and wildlife. Aside from insightful exhibitions, visitors can also enjoy green and tranquil outdoor spaces. 

Project Summary

7000 science facilities

406trees planted

3876of solar panels

Shaping the architectural vision

Inspired by the cutting-edge scientific research at CERN and the International Space Station, the architecture of the Science Gateway became an integral part of its identity. Leading the design of its four key elements – the pavilions, the tubes, the bridge and the photovoltaic collectors, the role of our engineering team was to shape a building whose complex structures reflects the scientific research conducted inside.

The bridge and tube structural design. © Michel Denance

Levitating above the ground, the building had to be lightweight and unified into a single unit, which became a challenge when designing and integrating some elements such as the bridge and the tubes. The first connects the exhibition and educational spaces and the second offers visitors an immersive experience representing the accelerator tunnels. These structures not only needed to be slender but also had to be robust, providing a sense of solidity and comfort to visitors.

To achieve this, we worked together with RPBW to explore different options and created a wide range of non-standard solutions. For example, the bridge structure was incorporated into and across the tubes to enable maximum stiffness of the loadbearing bridge elements and ensure visitors feel safe and secure. Owing to the close collaboration across our teams, we could make the primary structure near invisible to the eye, showcasing how engineering and architecture can be carefully and harmoniously integrated. 

Bringing sustainability into the heart of science

The Science Gateway had strong sustainability ambitions from its inception. To turn these into reality, we studied the associated embodied carbon footprint of different materials and challenged the initial concept design. This allowed us to reduce the amount of materials and use them more efficiently, minimising the building’s environmental impacts. Our main goal was to seek efficient and cost-effective solutions to material use without compromising on the architectural vision.  

For example, we suggested the use of low-carbon structural materials and recommended an alternative steel solution for the tubes. Combined with the bespoke design of the pavilion roof, these strategies contributed to create lighter and easier to build structures, cut down materials and reduce carbon emissions. Our design also integrates almost 4000m2 of solar panels, enabling the building to be net zero carbon in operation.

Green spaces were also a key element of the complex, as they are not only beneficial to the environment but also to visitors and the public. Weaving nature and greenery into the language of science and technology, the site includes 384 new and 22 relocated trees in the forestation areas, which serve to connect existing and new facilities. Together with other elements such as urban plazas and sun sheltered areas, this green public realm provides visitors with outdoor spaces for leisure, social interaction and relaxation. 

sustainable trees outside the CERN Science Gateway sustainable trees outside the CERN Science Gateway
The sustainable new trees planted. © Michel Denance

Creating a landmark in day and night scenes

Transforming the separate structures into a singular entity at night, lighting plays an indispensable role in shaping the building’s identity. Our aim was to create a distinct and easily identifiable night-time landmark, visible from the ground and air, if travelling from Geneva airport nearby.

The lighting scheme establishes a visual link between the Science Gateway and the current CERN campuses. This is achieved by employing different shades of white, distinguishing and establishing a hierarchy among the various spaces. The symmetry and rhythm of the structural elements guide the light from within, creating contrast with the darkness of the pavilion's surfaces. Through this thoughtful design and the illumination of the tubes, the distinctive features of the building are emphasised, drawing attention to its unique structures.

External night-time lighting of the building. © Michel Denance

As external lights can disrupt the nocturnal activity of wildlife and ecosystems, we refrained from illuminating any natural elements. Our strategy respects the darkness required for the forests and the natural landscape, while allowing visitors to enjoy a night walk on pathways illuminated through low-level lighting. Aiming to reduce light pollution further, we are collaborating with CERN and RPBW to reconsider the existing campus’ lighting scheme through retrofitting and reducing light spill in certain areas.  

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