Behnisch Architekten designs a serene environment for renewable energy research

Rundle of Energy

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), one of the leading research centers in southwestern Germany, recently ran short of lab space dedicated to developing and experimenting with new energy products. The platform commissioned Stuttgart firm Behnisch Architekten to design a single building that would allow its users “to explore the interplay of components in the energy systems of the future and in particular to speed up the Germany transition to renewable energy and production of electricity,” according to the firm.

During the day, the polycarbonate exterior can almost appear opaque. (David Matthiessen/Courtesy Behnisch Arkitekten)

The result is The Energy Lab 2.0, a seemingly delicate timber and concrete structure of almost 19,000 square feet, all of which is wrapped in translucent polycarbonate strips. Copious amounts of natural light pour into the assembly hall, a nearly columnless two-story room occupying the center of the building, through the gossamer walls and saw-toothed ceiling. Wide-set walkways on the second floor are supported by hollow timber walls designed to resemble exposed balloon frames.

Polycarbonate in the walls and saw-toothed roof illuminate the central assembly hall. (David Matthiessen/Courtesy Behnisch Arkitekten)

The smaller-scale office areas and two energy research facilities—the Power-Hardware in the Loop (PHIL) and the Smart Energy System Control Laboratory (SESCL)—are differentiated from the assembly hall with walls finished in a less textured wood, painted in crisp white. The open air layout allows the building’s researchers to interact and view each other’s work in a spacious setting. known on campus as Building 668, The overall project harkens back other modern research buildings, such as Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, which positions lab spaces on either side of a concourse overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Timber, concrete, chipboard panels, and polycarbonate combine in the interior to produce a serene working environment. (David Matthiessen/Courtesy Behnisch Arkitekten)

Load-bearing walls on the ground floor are designed to resemble balloon frames. (David Matthiessen/Courtesy Behnisch Arkitekten)

Despite its relationship to the exterior environment, the interior is a tightly controlled space that facilitates the production of research and simulations. KIT built three prototypical homes nearby to test out novel renewable energy systems.

Header image: The exterior illuminates like a lantern at night. (David Matthiessen/Courtesy Behnisch Arkitekten)