Project SheetCompact yet transparent

Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Ageing, Cologne

Project Panel

It is evident that the spontaneous meeting of people is a crucial part of innovation. For this very purpose, architecture must provide inspiring places and an adequate atmosphere.

Markus Hammes, Architect

The Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Ageing is situated on Cologne‘s University Clinic campus. Here, interdisciplinary teams of international scientists investigate the processes of ageing. Creating a new research building on a confined inner-city plot is not a common task. However, given the proximity of the university and the university clinic the choice of this site made sense. The main themes the design team focused on during the competition phase were contextualism, the response to the urban environment as well as creating a clear organisation within the building. It was the express wish of the scientists to get large, compact laboratory landscapes with adjoining communication zones, providing the foundation for their daily work.

» Looking at the layout, you see a compact building which suddenly, when passed through and experienced in the third dimension, reveals itself to be transparent and spacious. «
Markus Hammes, Architect

The spatial concept was developed from the special functional and organisational requirements of the integrative lab/office clusters of the individual departments and their relations with one another: the building has a classical structure of horizontal layers; a base floor level for infrastructure facilities, storeys for the scientific departments above and a top floor for the technical equipment and hygiene laboratories. Within this compact, dense building, the atrium is the central space, open for everyone to use, the interface of internal and external communication. The main entrance gives direct access to this centre, from which the whole layout of spaces and circulation can be perceived.

  • The horizontal arrangement of the research departments is one main aspect of the interior structure. All the departments, research groups and young professional groups are organised horizontally on just two levels.

  • There are connective elements through the spacious centre creating a direct path from one department to the next. The orientation towards the atrium generates the desired visual connections between the scientific lab work, visitors, guests and staff.

  • Connected by bridges and open stairways, the reception desk, the meeting rooms and the tea kitchens are located in the core of the atrium. Successful research thrives on communication and interaction.

  • At about mid-height, a triangular skylight spans the whole of the atrium, its glass roof being a biaxially-arched lattice structure.

  • On the plot, which has no clear orientation, the building takes a geometrically clear stand within the heterogeneous surroundings, very naturally occupying all the relevant space-defining edges. Maintaining sufficient distance, the building’s aim is to avoid an overbearing height, instead creating dense, urban spaces.

» … The calm, square structure is placed naturally and carefully on the predetermined plot. Its position within the urban fabric is very convincing, both in its alignment with connected pathways generated for the students, to the south, and with the Josef-Stelzmann-Straße, but in particular in being a counterpart to the Pediatric Oncology building. ... «
BNB Silber-Zertifizierung 2008 (German Building Ministry Assessment System for Sustainable Building)

When choosing the façade materials we wanted to relate to the urban context, proving genuine and sturdy while not concealing the aspect of ageing in dignity. Each area obtained a different façade design, developed from its individual functions. While the topmost storey with its white concrete surfaces has a calm and introverted expression, the appearance of the scientific levels is characterized by a shimmering play from copper-coated strips.



Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Ageing, Cologne

  • Joseph-Stelzmann-Str. 9b
  • 50931 Köln
  • Deutschland

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