Sensuous materials contrast with clinical white laboratories in DTU’s building 112

There is plenty of light, air and texture in DTU Sustain’s new laboratory building B112. According to architects Louise Gerner Rasmussen and Tobias Wittenburg from Christensen & Co, sustainability was an important parameter in the choice of materials and construction.

At DTU Sustain, researchers and students from the Ressource Recovery research area are experimenting with new methods for recycling resources. In the state-of-the-art laboratories, bacteria and enzymes process everything from fertiliser and wastewater to construction waste, so that the materials can be broken down and sent back into a circular resource cycle.

Naturally, this type of research requires an environment that can match and complement its important role in the green transition. Sustainability ambitions were therefore also at the top of the list when DTU launched a tender for the construction of a new building for the DTU Department of the Environment at Lyngby Campus.

"Building B112 is a flagship project for DTU’s high ambitions for sustainability and is, among other things, pre-certified for DGNB Gold. In order to make more informed choices, we carried out several life cycle assessments (LCAs) and had a strong focus on ensuring low energy consumption and a healthy indoor climate," says project manager Tobias Wittenburg from Christensen & Co.

Together with his colleague Louise Gerner Rasmussen and the rest of the project team, he designed the new laboratory building.

The result is a flexible and highly functional building with an open feel, where large timber-framed windows add plenty of texture and daylight, providing a welcoming view of the cutting-edge research. The high quality of the building, whose full name is DTU Ressource Recovery Research Platform, Building 112, has already secured it a place among the finalists for Building of the Year at the Building Awards 2023. The award will be presented in November 2023.

Photo: Tobias Wittenburg

Sustainability on a grand scale

DTU tendered B112 using a collaborative model with a relatively limited upfront assignment. Instead, it was up to the construction group, which in addition to Christensen & Co, consisted of Langvad Arkitekter, Norconsult, Elindco and the users from DTU, to formulate the construction programme together. 

"It’s a success story that the entire project group worked closely together to achieve the goal of sustainability on a large scale. Sustainability has been incorporated into so many different areas, where DGNB certification is just one of the more measurable ones," says Louise Gerner Rasmussen and explains:

"Early on in the process, we used sustainability in particular as a guiding principle when making choices about materials and construction. This included, among other things, creating an inspiring environment with wooden strips, acoustic ceilings, green roofs and other innovative materials that we all need to get used to living in. There was also a strong focus on 'Design for Disassembly' in all parts of the building."

This type of collaborative project is becoming more and more common in the construction industry, and according to Tobias Wittenburg, the method has a number of advantages: 

"Because the team is the same throughout the project, it’s easier to prevent loss of knowledge and keep each other in check on finances and op-ins/opt-outs. The most important lesson learned was that the different parties are strong at different stages. The contractor quickly becomes focused on the practical details, while we architects are more used to thinking in an airy sketch plan in the early phase. So it doesn't make sense that everyone is equally involved throughout, but overall it's been a happy marriage."

Read more about DTU's building 112 here

Photo: Louise Gerner Rasmussen

Flexible facade extends service life

Flexibility was one of the DGNB parameters that was especially in focus. The project group made several decisive choices that make it easier to convert the building for new purposes and thereby extend its service life. This includes ensuring that the placement of the building’s windows does not restrict the use of the interior spaces.

"We chose to use a facade kit that makes it possible to change the position of the windows as needed. It is new to build flexibility into the facade so that it can be changed in the same way as the interior areas. Inside the building, there are glass walls between the rooms, which partly optimises the use of daylight and partly provide users with a comfortable and inspiring environment to work in," explains Louise Gerner Rasmussen.

The project group has also worked hard to minimise the carbon footprint of the building’s load-bearing structure.

"The classic laboratory construction is a back wall of heavy concrete that provides the building with a stable core. To minimise the use of concrete, we instead chose a construction of columns and beams, where the space between the load-bearing elements is filled with lighter materials that cause less environmental damage, such as timber-frame walls," says Louise Gerner Rasmussen.

Texture creates contrast

The structure and layout of the laboratories were naturally a particular focus of attention for the building's users. Here, too, there was a strong focus on flexibility, so that the laboratories can be modified if new scientific methods require it. On the other hand, the architects from Christensen & Co. insisted that not everything should be about experiments and laboratory work. 

"We actively drew the users towards more communal rooms and break-out areas, so that they have the opportunity to cultivate community and share knowledge across the board. In the common areas, we emphasised the use of materials with a high degree of texture, such as Troldtekt acoustic ceilings. For practical reasons, the laboratories are painted white because it is easier to keep clean. But in contrast to the clinical environment, there is value when you come out of the labs and into the common areas," concludes Tobias Wittenburg.