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Agora CANCER Research Center

The smart monolith

Behnisch Architekten

Behnisch Architekten have excelled at shoehorning buildings into tight urban sites and giving them a distinctive presence. They have done it on home ground, in Stuttgart and Boston, and they won a limited competition to place the Agora Cancer Research Center on a narrow, highly visible site overlooking Lausanne. The challenge was to integrate the new building with the medical campus of the cantonal university, and relate it to the massive block of the hospital and a scatter of smaller buildings. The center was shaped by its location at the edge of a steep forested hillside and by the desire to maintain view corridors between neighboring structures. An overriding goal was to promote interaction among the 400 researchers who work in the four levels of laboratories and offices, entered from an atrium, and in the auditorium and restaurant/café on the lower floor. A geometric sun-shading grid wraps the upper floors, concealing the structure and giving the center its monolithic character. The architects first explored this concept with a colorful screen that blocked direct sun and pulled light into a parking structure in Santa Monica, California. Here they have carried it to a much more precise and sophisticated level, calculating the changing angles of sunlight in relation to a building that bends and inclines to follow the boundaries of the site and stay within the zoning envelope. Using CAD and 3D softwares, they devised an elegant structure of folded aluminum plates, pierced in places to filter the light, and attached to a steel frame. This is set 60 cm clear of the building façade to make room for a cat walk. Special attention was given to the corners, where the planes intersect. This screen, painted off-white with a metallic sheen, blocks summer sun and reflects its light off the ceilings, while admitting the low sun of winter and framing views over the town to the lake and the Alps. Looking up, its sharp points evoke mountain peaks, and the narrow...

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