The Center for Advanced Mobility may sound like an intentionally oblique entity, but as a new hub for automotive and aeronautical engineering at Aachen University of Applied Sciences, the largest and most prestigious technical university in Germany, the name is a perfect fit. Designed by Studio MDA, the practice behind Phillips' NY home at 432 Park Avenue, the 7,500 square foot education architecture building appropriately reflects Germany’s position as a leader in technical innovation by holding interdisciplinary collaboration at its core. From housing state-of-the-art testing laboratories, collaborative workspaces and lecture halls, to faculty offices and the largest dining hall on the university’s campus, the dynamic building is dedicated to forging new connections beyond the mechanical, aerospace, electrical engineering and information technology departments that it directly serves. In the making for twelve years, the building opens for its first lecture on Wednesday.
‘The idea was to bring students and professors together to think about the future of mobility,’ recounts Markus Dochantschi, director of Studio MDA. ‘It remains to be an important question and how we see our future develop, but what happens in disciplines in engineering is that the different faculties are very disconnected and don’t have much exchange. When you think about cars running with batteries, aerospace and aerodynamics, you realise that really, it’s the cross engineering that creates innovation.’
To broker this line of communication, the building takes shape as a dual-volume cantilevered structure composed of a white cube and an anthracite podium building. The cube, which almost seems to hover above ground level contains classrooms, seminar rooms and faculty offices, all organised around a central atrium that allows for visual links to be made when inside. The open layout extends to the way testing and research laboratories have been laid out - each can be viewed via glass windows, alongside the newest machinery and equipment.
The main auditorium and largest testing labs reside within the sub-ground level of the podium building. Connected to the ground level by a large external staircase, the space between the submerged facilities and the street level informally serves as an amphitheatre where students and the public alike can eventually enjoy social events, such as film screenings and concerts.
In addition to its programming, the building also considers its relationship to the surrounding environment as a whole. Inspired by the sleek lines and technical performance of sports cars, studioMDA’s aerodynamic design is the result of intensive wind studies. Its shape and location takes into consideration the fresh air corridors around Aachen, which have been maintained to facilitate natural ventilation in the Center, as well as around the city. Its gestural aluminium facade also consists of static white lacquer panels, perforated panels and movable black louvres to cater to the need for various lighting conditions within the building.
‘Like a car, the design, especially of the facade, is based on performance. The design is not a random pattern but reflects the use and requirements of each room. This continues over each elevation of the building and gives it a passive sustainability,’ explains Dochantschi. ‘When you’re inside the building, it’s almost like you’re opening the hood and you can see the engine parts and components. You can see how the building has been braced and stabilised. The raw structure, concrete and cables have been exposed.’
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Pei-Ru Keh is the US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru has held various titles at Wallpaper* since she joined in 2007. She currently reports on design, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru has taken a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars and actively seeks out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.
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