The letters ATC (for Advanced Training Centre) make up the name of the new architecturally innovative science building on the EMBL campus in Heidelberg. It’s hardly a coincidence that three of the four bases of DNA, the carrier of the genetic material for almost all areas of life, start with these letters. Besides guanine, DNA is made up of adenine, thymine and cytosine in a helical structure. It is precisely this structure which provided the concept for the new building, which now offers the international science community a venue for the presentation of the latest research findings in the field of microbiology.

It would take more than a century and a half before research could conclusively clarify theburning question of the transmission of genetic information from one generation to the next in 2006. Back in 1868, Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher succeeded in isolating one part of the cell nucleus. He called this never-before-seen molecule ‘nuclein’. It is now known as nucleic acid and gives its name to DNA as the abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid. Gregor Mendel also played his role in the tradition of contemporary molecular biology when he was able to prove in experiments with peas two years earlier that certain traits such as shape and colour are determined by various units of inheritance, now commonly referred to as genes.

In the late forties of the 20th century, the scientific community finally thought it was at least likely that DNA was the carrier of genetic material – as simplistic as that seemed to them. The fact that DNA was made up of the bases adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine (generally abbreviated as ATC and G) was also known at that point in time, though not the percentage quantities in which these bases were present. It was not much longer before the riddle of the appearance of the molecule was solved. Using very special X-rays owing to London-based physician Maurice H.F. Wilkins, the Englishman Francis H.C. Crick and American James D. Watson were able to discover in 1953 that DNA has a double helix structure whose strands are linked together, almost like rungs of a ladder made up of the base pairs A and T as well as G and C. The three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for this work in 1963.

Helical structures in architecture. It was not only at the start of the 21st century, when Ben van Berkel was inspired by the doublehelix when planning the Mercedes-Benz Museum, that the long undiscovered helical structure of DNA earned a firm place for itself in modern architecture. Back in 1961, Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa developed a design concept for an entire city from helical structures. As a member of the Metabolist movement, which coined the term “megastructure”, he wanted to use biological processes as models in designing a city which would open upefficient ways to deal with rapid growth and technological progress. In his Helix City project, the helical structure acts as a spatial framework for the transfer of information, as in DNA. There are spaces for residential buildings between helical service towers connected by horizontal and vertical bridges, which, amongst other things, accommodate transport routes three-dimensionally in a principle that could be reproduced over and over again. The helix provides the superstructure.

The Helix Hotel in Abu Dhabi is another spectacular example of how architects can incorporate fascinating natural geometric shapes into their designs. New York-based Leeser Architecture won a closed competition with its icon in 2008. It will be built at the waterline of a bay in the desert state. The helix bridge of French architect Dominique Perrault, a project recently completed in Madrid, is seen as a metaphor for growing links between the two districts of the city separated by the Manzarenes river.

The double helix facilitates the exchange of information and connects. In the new transparent science building of Darmstadt-based architects Bernhardt und Partner, which was built thanks to many subsidies from the Klaus Tschira Foundation and others, the double helix is also the element which connects and facilitates the exchange of information. More than this, it manifests itself as an engineering symbol of the fields worked in by the users using this location for exchanging scientific information from all over the world about the most up-to-date research in the area of molecular biology. The transparent ATC building, inaugurated last year by Federal Minister Annette Schavan, belongs to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), a leading international research institute set up in 1978 with John C. Kendrew as its first director. It was he who, together with Nobel Prize winner James D. Watson, one of the discoverers of the DNA structure, and other scientists came up with the idea to found the institute back in 1962.

As with the two strands of DNA, wound around each other, two functional strands spiral upwards in the ATC around a 30m highchamber designed as a central hall and spanned with an intricate membrane dome. Four 20-metre long transparent walkways, reminiscent of the “rungs” of the base pairs, connect – shifted by one level in each case –the opposing main strands, which encompass twelve three-step segments at each level. At the same time, the walkways are designed to act as cross-bracing for the overall structure.

Clear associations.
 While the functional rings, lying against the glass facade and thuscharacterised by a connection to the exterior, are reserved for the administrative functions of the science centre on one helix strand, and the training, seminar and workspaces of the doctoral and postdoctoral programmes and teacher training on the other, the inner functional zones principally provide space forexhibitions. The research findings of the EMBL are presented on one spiral, while the second spiral is used by external conference participants for poster presentation. Furthermore, exhibitions on general life science topics alternate here. The bridges allow for cross-connections between the content of the various presentations, thereby contributing in theirspatial structure – just as in the example of DNA – to the exchange of information. “Surprisingly, it seems it wasn’t so easy to navigate the complex building, which completely overturns the conventional arrangement of storeys, at the beginning”, said project manager Andreas Hammer, who worked in the Foster office for some years before moving to Bernhardt und Partner in Darmstadt. The architect had believed that the molecular biologists using the building would find it easy to comprehend the structure, as all the focal areas of their research ultimately revolve around DNA, with whose configuration they are intimately acquainted. However, opinions were divided between the work on the theoretical model and its physical presence in a real space created from the same model. Therefore, colour markings were subsequently added to the two strands of the building to ensure easy orientation.

The structure is derived from the line. design phase. “All planners struggled to understand the complexity of the building, as a ground plan only covers all areas of the architecture in segments. You really have to get your head around the double helix to picture it properly”, explained the light planner, who is also an experienced architect. The illumination concept to be planned by agLicht had to adapt to the architecture of the totally transparent building, which facilitates clear visual connections and visibility from each level and segment and signals lightness, in order to observe this concept. “The entirety lives from its atrium”, was Daniel Walden’s first and lasting impression. “We took the access levels for the individual office areas as an idea. The line as a link between these strands was the creative element.”

Linear lights creating a distinctive rhythm. 250 flush-mounted, ceiling-recessed RSL profile luminaires with different covers and light components precisely follow the windings of the inner ramps in the semi-public area. Flushmounted downlights from the RSL standard range provide low-key lighting for the office corridors, separated by glass partitions in front of the inner ramp on the facade side. In this way, it has been possible with all formal retraction to create a distinctive rhythm with the lines mounted as light strips which naturally underpin the building’s helix structure. Technical lighting calculations were used to work out how many luminaires should be integrated in the presentation segments and how far apart they should be positioned. These luminaires emit a particularly homogenous light, giving the poster presentations of the guest scientists and EMBL researchers a balanced light quality.

With the double helix structure and an arrangement and illumination which rule out any deviation from the core statement of the architecture to the benefit of impressive views, the Advanced Training Centre offers a completely new spatial experience. And there couldn’t be any architectural structure with which the leading research institute European Molecular Biology Laboratory identifies more clearly than the physical representation of ATC.


“ Good communication underpins the quality of each construction task”
An interview with Dipl.-Ing. Daniel Walden (MALD), ag Licht in Bonn

Architect Klaus Adolph and interior designer Wilfried Kramb founded agLicht, a planning company for daylight and artificial light planning, in 1996. The firm faced a large and challenging planning task right from the outset in the form of an illumination concept for a spectacular project – the DZ Bank in Pariser Platz, Berlin (Frank O. Gehry). Now in great international demand, the light planning company has realised almost 250 further projects at home and abroad in the interim. Some of its best known references include BMW Welt in Munich (Coop Himmelb(l)au) and the recently completed Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt (Mario Bellini Architects with gmp Frankfurt). Where the illumination task calls for it, the company also develops custom designs or luminaire concepts which are subsequently incorporated into the series production of individual manufacturers. 

agLicht designed the illumination concept for the complex Advanced Training Centre in Heidelberg under the project management of Daniel Walden.

You were made partner at agLicht at the start of the year. Congratulations. How long have you been working there as a light planner? You’re actually an architect. 
Daniel Walden: Yes, that’s right. I was awarded my Diploma in Architecture in 2002 and had the opportunity to work at gmp in Hamburg and KSP in Berlin during my studies. However, I became fascinated with the subject of light very early on in my studies and so I opted to study further to become a light planner. A four-semester Masters programme was offered for the first time at Wismar University and the KTH in Stockholm, which I concluded with a Degree in Architectural Lighting Design. I was lucky to be able to start at agLicht immediately after this.

What topics are covered in this postgraduate course?
Daniel Walden: As light is an integral part of architecture and interior design, both technical and creative requirements need to be considered when dealing with this element. These are addressed in the course. Previously, light planning would have been part of the role of the electrical engineer or architect, but requirements have changed considerably over recent years and become significantly more complex. Often either the technical or creative side was then neglected. Nowadays, a planner must be able to combine creative and technical know-how. 

Why did you want to work for agLicht? 
Daniel Walden: I did work experience with Klaus Adolph and Wilfried Kramb before my studies. Their manner of working and planning creativity motivated and stimulated me, so the obvious next step was to apply to them for a job. 

Could you briefly describe the approach taken by your company?
Daniel Walden: The quality of our work, along with the creative requirements, sets the highest standards in respect of the sustainability, energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness of a lighting system. We do not plan with our own creative or economic purposes in mind, but with the aim of combining innovative lighting and control technologywith daylight and artificial light planning. This is a very realistic approach, which does justice to the creative potential of the medium and the client’s budget. In addition to this, we approach all projects, whether large or small, private or public, with the same seriousness and creative enthusiasm.

You planned the illumination concept for the Advanced Training Centre in Heidelberg. Was that a difficult process?

Daniel Walden: Of course, the first step was to understand the structure of this double helix, which makes it a very complex architectural building. But then the solution came to us quickly. The linear connectors, the bridges between the various levels of the helixes, provided us with the direction and ultimately the basic idea. This rectilinearity is visually reinforced by the linear profile luminaires used. At the same time, support for the overall structure comes from the radial alignment, which strictly follows the incline of the roof in the segments. The fact that different luminaire components and covers can be used and therefore different lighting situations created in a uniform use of shapes also spoke in favour of the profile luminaires. Starting at the ground floor, the system draws a clear line via the exhibition and communication zones to the upper floors of the lounge and meeting levels. In accordance with the requirements, spotlights for a more shaded and high-contrastlight have been integrated into the profiles in combination with the basic lighting using elongated T5 lamps. Overall, we were able toachieve a very natural illumination, which subtly ties in with the dimensions and the shape of the roof. 

Were there fixed specifications from the architects or client?
Daniel Walden: No, absolutely not. We initially had completely free in the preliminary design phase. Bernhardt und Partner, the Darmstadt-based architects, know how we work and the quality of what we do. Working with light as a medium and creating various lighting atmospheres with high quality and significance were to the fore. We are more concerned with playing a supporting role rather than asserting claims for dominance. And we approached the design and implementation of the illumination concept for the ATC building in the same way. Of course, we cooperated closely with the project manager, specialist planners and client in the planning phase.

Nowadays, many manufacturers sell linear lights, as grouped by you into rhythmic lighting strips. Why did you choose RSL?
Daniel Walden: That’s really simple. The luminaries that are flush-mounted into the suspended ceilingshave the same profile length in the semi-public areas. However, in many of the adjoining rooms, we had to respond with the profiles to different requirements, such as in the seminar and conference rooms, and to geometrical changes within the building. A company that specialises in custom designs can respond quickly and flexibly when made-to-measure solutions are needed. We also wanted to ensure trouble-free integration in all areas. Sometimes it can happen during a project that the actual installation point does not match the planning. Then the integration depth of the product may have to be adjusted quickly, without the light quality suffering. Thanks to its technical equipment and the expertise of its staff, RSL is able to react quickly in such situations. Therefore, it is important to have a solution-oriented partner.

I imagine it’s difficult to plan with a medium as subtle as light. Do you get almost “light-headed” in the realisation phase?
Daniel Walden: You always feel a certain tingle. The worst thing would be for the client to say – I was picturing something completely different. But I believe that comes from insufficient communication. The quality of each construction task is underpinned by a mix of creativity and good communication.

Mr. Walden, thank you for letting me interview you.
Petra Lasar