Danish Firms Win Massive Particle Research Campus Project

Perhaps the recent news of the scientific consensus regarding the discovery of the Higgs boson (a.k.a., the “God particle”) has inspired a renewed interest in particle physics. Three Danish architecture firms — Henning Larsen Architects, COBE and SLA — recently won the contract to design the massive European Spallation Source (ESS) research facility in Lund, Sweden.

While the ESS isn’t expected to unlock the secrets of the universe like the Large Hadron Collider, the campus will become the world’s largest neutron-based research facility, with more than 1 million square feet of built laboratory space. According to the designs from the Danish architects, the sprawling complex will be as environmentally friendly as possible to protect the region’s notable biodiversity.

The European Spallation Source (ESS) campus design will have ample open outdoor areas in which scientists can interact. Image via Henning Larsen Architects.

The European Spallation Source (ESS) campus design will have ample open outdoor areas in which scientists can interact. Image via Henning Larsen Architects.

The core of the ESS facility will include a nearly 2,000-foot-long proton accelerator and a 600-foot-long hall in which the protons will strike various targets. The sensitive equipment surrounding these chambers will record the paths of neutrons that fly off from these collisions. Other areas will include lab space, lecture halls and meeting rooms for all sorts of research, from medicine to archaeology to sustainable energy sources, ESS said.

One of the hallmarks of the design will be large open areas that will encourage the estimated 2,000 to 4,000 visitors each year to meet in informal groups to share ideas. To make these spaces comfortable and improve indoor air quality, the design will include an abundance of greenery both inside the atriums of the buildings. Large green spaces will also be included in between the buildings in case researchers want to hold meetings outdoors, weather permitting.

Interior spaces at ESS will have an abundance of plant life and informal meeting areas. Image via Henning Larsen Architects.

Interior spaces at ESS will have an abundance of plant life and informal meeting areas. Image via Henning Larsen Architects.

“Researchers will travel to Lund from every corner of the world,” said Jacob Kurek, a partner at Henning Larsen. “They will require space for concentrated work, but they will also need places where they can meet other researchers. In the atriums found in the buildings, they will be able to meet each other informally, inspire each other, exchange ideas and share their knowledge.”

Rainwater on the campus will be collected and diverted to nearby marshes and lakes around the campus that are known for their varieties of flowers, insects and birds. A visitors’ center also will be established, allowing the public to wander certain parts of the ESS campus and learn about the type of research taking place.

Preliminary sketch of the ESS campus, as it might look upon completion in 2025. Image via Henning Larsen Architects.

Preliminary sketch of the ESS campus, as it might look upon completion in 2025. Image via Henning Larsen Architects.

“The surface of the landscape will be an interwoven patchwork of different fields and meadows,” said Stig L. Andersson, creative director at SLA. “Wild-growing vegetation and fences provide spatial distinction as well as safety barriers.”

The international design competition for ESS lasted through the second half of 2012 and the winning proposal was selected in late February. Several other major design firms participated, including Benthem Crouwell,  BIG, Foster + Partners, HOK, Mecanoo, Tengbom, and West8. While making their decision, the ESS judges looked at the architectural vision, flexibility, financial and functional feasibility, security, sustainability, environmental impact, and process understanding.

The path to complete the ESS will be a long one. With the help of engineering comapnies Buro Happold, NNE Pharmaplan and Transsolar, the three Danish firms hope to have enough of the campus finished by 2019 to allow scientists to begin research. The final phases of the entire campus, Henning Larsen said, should be done by 2025.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.