Science Gateway - a dream becoming reality

Jun 12, 2020
Patrick Geeraert, Science Gateway Project Leader

From the ESO planetarium to the Science Gateway for CERN, the project leader's trajectory

Patrick Geeraert began his career at CERN in the Purchasing Department on the Prévessin site in September 1985, then rapidly joined the Financial Planning Department, headed by mathematician Dr Benno Schorr. On Dr Schorr’s departure, Patrick took over as Deputy Head of the Finance Division, under André Naudi. When André Naudi became Director of Administration, Patrick was appointed Head of the Purchasing, Finance and Logistics Department, a position he held until the end of the LHC construction.
At the end of 2008, Patrick was seconded to ESO (the European Southern Observatory) in Munich to take up the position of Director of Administration. His secondment to ESO, an international organisation and member of EIROforum, lasted 9 years.
Since the installation of the Globe of Science and Innovation on the CERN site in 2004, senior management, and particularly Director-General Rolf Heuer, have always sought to integrate the globe into a more functional environment, better suited to receiving visitors, by constructing a new building and opening it up to the general public. However, finding external funding on this basis had proved impossible.
 When Fabiola Gianotti was appointed Director General for a first term, she asked Patrick to come back to CERN and put the skills and experience he had acquired by following the Supernova Planetarium construction project in Munich from start to finish as ESO's Director of Administration towards a bold new project at CERN ( https://supernova.eso.org/about/planetarium/). The success of the Supernova Planetarium reinforced the idea that CERN needed an emblematic building dedicated to science.

Let's dream bigger ...

Throughout 2017, the dialogue continued between the Director General and Patrick Geeraert, with the support of the Director of International Relations and the Director for Finance and Human Resources, and gradually, the project evolved and started taking shape.  Initially, the plan consisted of completing the now emblematic Globe of Science by providing it with the necessary infrastructure and a large amphitheatre for a budget of around 10 MCHF. But the project fails to inspire and the search for external funding proves to be challenging.

Patrick then proposes to dream bigger and, following the example of the Supernova planetarium,  change the scale of the project from 40 to 50 MCHF. The Director General is enthusiastic about this new vision and Patrick returns to CERN in September 2018 with a mission and a blank roadmap.

 He sets up a project team and together with the Director General and the Director of International Relations, they create the Circle of Friends, a network that brings together, among others, local authorities, universities etc. all those partners whose support and membership is essential.
The small project team, comprising members from the International Relations Sector and the SMB Department in charge of the site and buildings, brings together the best talent available at CERN in civil engineering, exhibition design and reception of the general public.

The Science Gateway Project Team


External funding, the cornerstone of the project

It was very clear from the outset that the CERN budget would not be used for the construction of this emblematic new building.  When the building is commissioned, it is expected that the operation costs will be borne mainly by external revenue and the rest by the operations budget. The required income will come from the rental of conference rooms and the amphitheatre, revenue from the gift shop in the heart of the complex and the restaurant as well as public parking.
By the end of 2017, everything is in place to find and secure the cornerstone of the project, the funding, which had to be external.

A brochure, models ... and a taxi...

"We have to be able to make those sponsors and donors we wish to involve in a project like this dream, and offer them a vision, a concept ... " explains Patrick. To achieve this, he is working with CERN's Design and Visual Identity team to design an attractive brochure and has an architect create wooden models to materialise the project.  

Wooden Models

The next step is to identify the major players in the region and their motivation to contribute. It was at that point that Patrick contacted a large, private foundation in Geneva, (which will remain anonymous), and which does much to promote and increase the influence of the city. Patrick succeeded in bringing them on board and the foundation agreed to contribute 10 MCHF to help CERN launch the project and become credible in the eyes of other potential donors.

This project needed a name that can symbolise the opening of CERN's doors to the public, especially the younger generations. The name 'Science Gateway' was quite naturally found during a conversation in a taxi.  Intended to be a temporary code name, it quickly imposed itself and it is no longer conceivable today to call this magnificent project anything otherwise.

Patrick notes with a smile: "Other international organizations have copied us in naming their new buildings dedicated to awareness raising and knowledge sharing as "gateways", this is the case of the United Nations with the Gateway of Nations, and the World Health Organization with the Health Gateway".

If there's ever anything I can do for CERN, let me know...

With funding underway, the search for an architect begins. Several options are possible: a competitive architectural selection process, which can take a lot of time, where the return on investment is uncertain, or a classic call for tenders, in line with the applicable procedure,  but again, potentially not delivering a visionary solution for the science gateway project.
As it happened, the world-renowned architect Renzo Piano had previously visited CERN and fell in love with the mission and values of the organization. He simply stated at the end of his visit: "If there is anything I can ever do for CERN, please let me know...".


In the spring of 2018 the Director General met Renzo Piano in Paris to discuss this project, possible constraints and above all the objectives of opening up science to the younger members of society. The world renowned architect immediately offered to contribute his architectural genius. "This is most certainly a fantastic asset for the project and an added attraction for potential donors too," emphasises Patrick.
The project's budget is then estimated at 55 MCHF, of which only 10 MCHF are secured.

The ISS in a forest

In June 2018, Renzo Piano and his principal architect, Antonio Belvedere, presented the first sketch in their Genoa offices. As a sign that luck is very much on the project’s side, it is in Genoa that the team learns that the Loterie Romande has decided to contribute 2 MCHF to the construction of the building.
 

The First Sketch Revealed

The architects offer a word of warning: "We're going to shock you, but here's what inspires us and what we would like to offer you!" and they simply unveiled a space station set in a forest:

From a project manager's point of view, all the obstacles are a priori linked, five different buildings on land that cannot be built on, a wing placed on the current site of the Kindergarten, a public space, a footbridge of almost 250 meters above the route de Meyrin, the necessary relocation of the current carpark and a forest of trees.  Science Gateway does not revolve around the Globe, which simply takes its place in a free and magnificent vision.

Plans for the project of 7000 square meters see the multiplication of surfaces and walls; the budget has to be revised upwards to 65 MCHF, still to be financed externally.
This is a magnificent vision and Patrick, the Director General, the Director of International Relations and Fréderic Magnin return to CERN excited, excited and convinced that this unique opportunity to involve an architect of Renzo Piano's renown will increase the visibility and attractiveness of the project, give the building an artistic value and underline the close links between science and the arts, one of the messages promoted by Science Gateway.  
On 27 September 2018, CERN Council decided, on the basis of an ambitious but meticulously costed description and the external funding pledges already received, to authorise the launch of the project and to entrust the architectural design of the project to Renzo Piano, for an inauguration scheduled for the end of 2022.
To assist in the development of the project, an Advisory Committee is being set up, bringing together directors of cultural centres and museums in the Member States.  
How can the brilliant vision of architect Renzo Piano be translated into planning permission and the laying of the foundation stone?  The challenges are many!

Science Gateway

 

 


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