It’s the disorientating combination of counter-intuitive form and formal rigour that gives Zaha Hadid’s Wolfsburg Science Centre its architectural kick. Here’s the thinking behind it …

If you think Zaha Hadid’s buildings are invariably complex and strange, then you’re in good company. Hadid thinks so, too. When it comes to her latest completed building, these are the two qualities she picks out as the main characteristics confronting visitors.

The £56m building is Germany’s largest interactive science centre in Volkswagen’s hometown of Wolfsburg in Saxony, and it exhibits all Hadid’s trademarks of dynamic, fluid spaces and raking, off-balance forms.

Just don’t fall into trap of thinking this complexity and strangeness are whimsical. They are, assures Hadid, “ruled by a specific system based on an unusual volumetric structural logic”.

This logic is generated by the concrete floor slab of the main exhibition hall. This is at first-floor level and is supported above an open undercroft on 10 great beefy concrete piers vaguely reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s pilotis.

The difference is that in Hadid’s design, these pilotis are huge inverted funnels, as though the first-floor slab were made of lycra stretched down to ground level.

And the funnels come in a bizarre assortment of squashed, sloping, wedge-shaped cones and are so cavernous that they contain the entrance hall and staircase, a restaurant, a shop and even an auditorium.

The underside of the floor slab is pock marked by large trapezoidal coffers housing ceiling lights. The concrete floor slab turns up at either side to form the perimeter walls of the exhibition hall, and these are punctuated by windows that match the lighting coffers below.

The roof is a complex steel space frame that is supported on the perimeter walls and four of the concrete cones that pass straight through the exhibition hall.

All in all, Wolfsburg’s weird science centre adds up to a magic box, that Hadid intends should “awaken curiosity and the desire for discovery”. The real test will be whether it will allow visitors to tear their curiosity away from the building and transfer it to the 250 interactive displays of science and technology it contains.

The strangeness, if not the complexity, of Zaha Hadid’s science centre in Wolfsburg starts with the external view of the concrete shell

The strangeness, if not the complexity, of Zaha Hadid’s science centre in Wolfsburg starts with the external view of the concrete shell

Project team

Client City of Wolfsburg
Architects Zaha Hadid Architects, Mayer Bährle Freie Architekten
Structural engineers Adams Kara Taylor, Tokarz Frerichs Leipold
Services engineers NEK, Buro Happold 
Cost consultant Hanscomb
Concrete contractor Heitkamp