Open doors at Microcity, home to EPFL's outpost in Neuchâtel
09.05.14 - Discover the architecture of Microcity, the newly inaugurated research center in the heart of Neuchâtel during the open days on May 10th. From its initial conception to its current exploitation, the building aims to demonstrate how a single urban intervention can transform its urban surroundings in a sustainable way.
Set between the residential neighborhoods on the slopes of Neuchatel and the lake, Microcity is surprising in how well it blends into its mixed urban surroundings. The newly inaugurated research center accommodates twelve research labs from EPFL, as well as Neuchatel’s Neode science park. The open day, held on May 10th, is an opportunity for those interested to take a closer look at the building’s unique architecture, shaped through and through by urban and environmental considerations.
As it’s name indicates, Microcity is designed to be the concentrate of a city condensed into a single building. With a floor plan inspired by integrated circuits used in electronics, Microcity’s layout snaps to a regular grid. Offices line the long white corridors – the city’s roads – that connect the different areas of the buildings, interrupted by open spaces – its public squares – designed to promote interaction. Atria provide vistas over opposing offices, and bright red stairways stand out as landmarks connecting the building’s floors.
According to Emmanuel Rey, the building’s architect as a partner of the architectural firm Bauart, and head of the Laboratory of architecture and sustainable technologies (LAST) at EPFL, Microcity seeks to act as an “urban amplifier,” by proposing urban and environmental solutions that extend well beyond the building’s perimeter. The public park, created on space freed up by the building’s compact design, is one such example. Others include its rooftop covered in photovoltaic panels and its cooling system driven by the temperature difference between the shallow and deeper water in Lake Neuchatel, which provide renewable resources to the building’s urban surroundings.
Optimizing the use of non-renewable resources
The architect’s objective was to optimize Microcity’s consumption of non-renewable resources – land and energy – during construction and exploitation. “Today, sustainable architecture is still often divided into two camps: the low-tech vision posits that only low-tech solutions can give rise to sustainable buildings. The high-tech vision seeks solutions in technology. We sought to follow non-dogmatic combination of high and low-tech practices,” explains Rey. An article in a special edition of the journal TRACÉS, published in May and dedicated entirely to Microcity, outlines what Rey calls “sustainable hybridization,” an approach that “seeks synergies and optimization by associating otherwise separate concepts, technologies, and materials.”
Hybrid wood-concrete construction elements are but one example of how sustainable hybridization was used to optimize the building’s construction time as well as its thermal properties. To take advantage of the complementary properties of the wood and the concrete – wood’s thermal and acoustic performance, and concrete’s load-bearing strength – the architects used hybrid construction elements that were prefabricated off-site by the general contractor ERNE. This modular approach allowed to guarantee the quality of each element as well as to speed up assembly on the construction site. In the future, it will also facilitate adaptation to the building and its ultimate dismantling and recycling.