Overlapping perspectives of Science Gateway - From permission to dream to permission to build.


Encounter with Renzo Piano {(Frederic Magnin in centre, smiling) [Photo : RPBW] 


From a private investment fund to CERN's urban master plan

As part of our series of interviews with the men and women at the heart of the Science Gateway, I met Fréderic Magnin, a civil engineer who has been at CERN for 10 years and is the construction correspondant of Science Gateway, right at the heart of the project team. 
From the outset, his enthusiasm and passion for this project are very present in our exchanges.
After working for several years in the construction of public infrastructures, and obtaining an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University - Chicago), in 2009, Fréderic joined a private investment fund specialising in investments in public infrastructures where he worked as an investment manager. His roles was to evaluate, from a civil engineering perspective, the technical feasibility of projects (highways, renewable energy facilities, prisons etc.) as well as their financial profitability.
A chance meeting with a former fellow student working at CERN led him to apply and be selected for the position of project manager engineer in the Laboratory's Civil Engineering Department. His first project was the creation of an extension inside the CERN Computing Centre (B513), which would make it possible to recover a large area of unused space.

His responsibilities evolved rapidly as Frédéric was then put in charge of developing the infrastructure consolidation program, which was soon followed by the finalisation of CERN's urban planning master plan. Once again, he acquired new skills by obtaining a CAS (Certificate of Advanced Studies) in sustainable urban planning from the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne.

Twists and Turns of the project

Fréderic recalls that the idea of strengthening CERN's communication and reception capacity has been on the management's mind for a relatively long time: "The previous Director-General, Rolf Heuer, had a 3D film made to visualise the desired development of CERN in terms of welcoming visitors and raising public awareness of the Laboratory's mission. The film was very successful, but it was not enough to create real momentum around a concrete project."
In order to improve the sanitation facilities of the Globe of Science and Innovation, CERN's emblematic facility since 2004, Frédéric led the team developing an integrated proposal in coherence with the existing environment.

"I worked on this project with Charpente Concept, the wood engineering firm that co-designed the Globe. This work ended with the presentation at the end of 2016 to the Board of the Globe Foundation of a simple project for sanitation facilities connected to the Globe by a walkway. "

The Globe of Science and Innovation

"During this session, management, supported by members of the Globe Foundation Board, expressed the desire to have a more ambitious and longer-term vision for the development of spaces near the Globe, so that it can bring together a community of support and raise funds. In order to respond to this request, a mandate was given to Charpente Concept, who joined forces with the Geneva-based architectural firm Brodbeck Roulet Architectes Associés (BRAA) to develop sketches for a visitor centre. Three proposals emerged from this initiative. They are still visible today in the form of wooden models."

Presentation of the first sketches of the project at the RPBW agency in Genoa [Photo RPBW*].

A fruitful collaboration between two major architectural firms

"The AARO completed its sketch mandate and then the project was put on hold. However, the architectural firm remained very enthusiastic about this potential project and offered to continue the work on behalf of the author."

Before the summer of 2018, BRAA presented the results of its work with a series of rough draft boards, an illustration of which is shown below.

"Everything then went very fast! In June 2018, Renzo Piano, who, fascinated by a visit to CERN, had offered to help the project, presented his first sketches in Genoa. The surprise was complete and one could not be more enthusiastic, as the project was so ambitious and in the image of CERN!"

"Renzo Piano wanted to work with a local partner for the execution of the project, so we naturally put Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) in contact with BRAA and the link worked very quickly to create a great collaboration.”

The development of the project is conducted by RPBW, starting with the sketches, the preliminary draft summary and then described in detail. BRAA contributed its knowledge of the Geneva context, applicable regulations, relations with local authorities, consultation with technical services to the development of the dossier. This greatly facilitated the elaboration of the building permit file and the follow-up of its processing. BRAA also actively contributed to the production of the tender documents.

Fréderic underlines: "Renzo Piano and his team remain very present to keep control of the multiple evolutions of the project. BRAA will be even more present to monitor the execution of the project. “

The building permit was issued on September 29, 2020, after very important steps had already been taken, such as the decommissioning of the agricultural land on which Science Gateway will be built and the signing of an agreement authorising the passage of the building over the route de Meyrin (the footbridge).

Science Gateway architectural meetings

Architecture, a new world

"Today, I am responsible for the tertiary projects section of the SMB department. Until recently, I was also mobility coordinator at CERN.  The Science Gateway project falls under the aegis of the International Relations Department project. When Patrick Geeraert took over as project leader, he asked me if I wanted to be part of the project team. Without hesitation my answer was positive!”

“I am extremely happy to work on this project. As a civil engineer, I have mainly worked in the past on heavy infrastructure projects. Since my arrival at CERN, I have been working mainly in the building sector. It's both different and very complementary.”

“Being able to collaborate on the birth of a building as emblematic as the Science Gateway alongside a team of very high-level multidisciplinary representatives is extremely enriching and makes me discover a new world and become aware of the extent to which architecture really is an art. Nothing limits the architect who pushes reflection and questioning on all aspects of his architectural vision and his relationship with humanity and the environment. … “

“I am particularly struck by the architect's concern for simplicity, his desire for things to flow by themselves and to avoid any grain of sand in the perception and life of the building. Take for example, the flow of visitors was a real challenge given the spread of the program over 5 separate buildings.  For my part. I was not convinced that building a passage under the footbridge to access the piazza (meeting place between the two pavilions) was the best solution.”

Renzo Piano imparted his architectural intuitions to his team of architects who, in collaboration with the model makers, give them shape. A few weeks later, the proposed solution made complete sense and fitted naturally into the whole.

Renzo Piano is concerned that the Science Gateway should be integrated into CERN's clearly industrial urban planning. While visiting CERN, he noticed that many buildings from the 60s and 70s proudly displayed their primary structure outdoors. Fine examples are buildings 160-161 or the Meyrin boiler room building (B200), whose load-bearing structures, red metal beams, are clearly visible.


Above: Building 161 [Photo CERN], Below: View of Pavilion 3 with its visible structure, the photovoltaic veil and the alternation of opaque and glazed facades

Renzo Piano therefore wanted to take the structure out of the buildings, which meant having to solve the issues related to the many thermal bridges thus created. In collaboration with the structural and thermal engineers, we managed to find the materials and assemblies needed to deal with this challenge.

“I had the pleasure and the honour of meeting Renzo Piano on three or four occasions. I was deeply touched by his listening skills, his kindness, his wisdom and especially his lyricism. His willingness to be fair, idealistic, and to do things that make sense, really impressed me.”

Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.  (Horace)

This willingness to be accurate also explains all the changes made. One of the great challenges of the project, beyond the desire to express the very strong link with scientific research and the spirit of CERN in general, was the integration of the buildings into the existing environment: the globe, the esplanade des particules, Point 1 and the Route de Meyrin, which already strongly marked the zone.

Fréderic explains: "We had to understand this environment and decide how to position ourselves in relation to the existing structures. Should we erase them?  Connect to them?  Integrate them?  Distance the project from them?  Or completely ignore them... ?  This search for the right positioning was one of the main reasons for the many modifications made to the project up until the building permit was filed.”

“The Globe, for example, with its circularity, height and the special material wood, has given rise to multiple variations of the project: more or less elevated, cylindrical, with a second globe etc...”+


Numerous variations of the project and its models

It was the architect's will to respect the existing environment which finally settled the issue. Science Gateway will meet the needs of and integrate into the surrounding environment. It will therefore be more horizontal and more modest without needing to compete with other elements of the landscape but rather be in keeping with the area in a spirit of cohabitation.

Evolution of the project, ranging from the largest to the most integrated

"It took a lot of time, but luck and physics provided the required solutions. ”For a very long time, the bridge linking the pavilions was at the centre of the project. But it didn't work with the auditorium. In particular, the passageway leading to the auditorium had major acoustics issues.” 

Fabiola Gianotti spoke to Renzo Piano about the charm of the asymmetry so well known to physicists and this gave the right impetus: The building would not be symmetrical.  The two tubes along the route de Meyrin will be of different lengths, the footbridge has been shifted to separate on one side the functional spaces (stairwell, sanitary facilities) and the more imposing spaces (auditorium, labs, exhibition halls etc.)".

From symmetry to asymmetry!

Finally, thanks to the contribution of all those who had a shared a vision of the building before it existed, the building permit was filed on October 28, 2019.

A green and ethical building?

To this sensitive and very topical question, Frédéric answers without hesitation:

"The building was designed from the outset as a very high energy performance building. We have conducted studies for a possible ecological certification, but these labels are extremely expensive. Since Renzo Piano is not attached to these commercial labels, it was decided not to pursue a label, but to make a truly ecological project. The insulation was thought to be optimal despite the many challenges posed by a fragmented building including many glass surfaces.   As with so many aspects of the project, a balance had to be found between beautiful exterior views, the best solar gain, natural lighting and heat loss.

The heating and cooling system will be provided by two water-to-water heat pumps fed by 40 geothermal probes at a depth of 250 metres. Geo-cooling (directly extracted from the ground) will be the preferred method in most cases.

Sustainability considerations were present at all stages of the design. Even though our purchasing procedures do not specifically integrate sustainability into the tendering process, we have taken care to incorporate specific technical constraints to ensure that the construction phase, processes and materials used are as environmentally friendly as possible.”


The geothermal probe field on the site of the former kindergarten.



A confirmed schedule for 2022

The building permit was issued on September 29, 2020, after very important steps had already been taken such as the decommissioning of the agricultural land on which the Science Gateway will be built and the signing of an agreement authorizing the passage of the building over the route de Meyrin (the footbridge). This building permit was, of course, a prerequisite for signing the construction contract for the Science Gateway. In view of the initial plan presented to the CERN Council in September 2018, it was obtained one year late and I ask Fréderic if the whole schedule has been pushed back by one year, which would lead to an inauguration in the second half of 2023.

"The initial planning foresaw delivery of the building permit more than 6 months before the beginning of the works. Currently we expect to obtain the permit just before the start of work in October for a period of 24 months. This should allow us to complete the work in the last quarter of 2022. The design phase has been as intense as it has been exciting and extremely rewarding from a professional and personal point of view, but to see Science Gateway gradually rise from the ground to become the magnificent architectural ensemble will be a unique experience! “

Thank you Fréderic, the CERN Alumni community wishes this beautiful project every success and will follow its progress step by step, exploring in our next "Overlapping Perspectives" on Science Gateway, the ingenious and innovative development of its educational content.

Author: Laure Esteveny (CERN) - August 13, 2020
*) Unless specified otherwise all photos are credited to RPBW

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