An open international competition has been launched for a new £20 million national science and innovation centre in Kaunas, Lithuania
Organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, the single-stage contest seeks proposals for a new landmark 9,000m² development on the city’s prominent Nemunas Island.
Planned to complete in 2018 – the ‘Science Island’ complex will feature a planetarium, ‘experimentorium’, galleries, research laboratories, a flexible events space and a cafeteria.
According to the brief: ‘The project’s overall aim is to foster and advance the development of science and culture in Kaunas, and in Lithuania as a whole.’
The document continued: ‘As one of the key aims of the centre is to promote visitors’ active engagement with renewable energy, the jury will give special attention to the functionality, innovation and energy-efficiency of the design; this should achieve the best use of natural and renewable resources.’
Backed by Kaunas City Municipality – the project aims to boost Kaunas’ reputation as leading tourist destination, and key knowledge and cultural hub in the Baltic region.
The national centre will focus on environmental themes and ecosystems with competing designs expected to harness both ‘sustainable and future energy technologies’.
The project will occupy a 13,000m2 plot on Nemunas Island close to the landmark Žalgiris Arena and the city’s historic old town.
Currently used for outdoor sports and leisure, the 33 hectare islet is a short distance from the Vytautus Magnus University, the Kaunas University of Technology and the Lithuanian University of Health Science which are all supporting the project.
Other partner organisations situated nearby include the Lithuanian Zoo, the Tadas Ivanauskas Museum of Zoology, the Lithuanian Aviation Museum and the Museum of the History of Lithuanian Medicine and Pharmacy.
The competition comes eight months after Daniel Libeskind revealed plans for a new 3,100m² modern art gallery in Lithuania’s capital city – Vilnius.
Located around 100 kilometres from Vilnius in the geographical centre of Lithuania, Kaunas is the Baltic state’s second largest settlement and was designated a UNESCO city of design last year.
Formerly the capital city during Lithuania’s brief inter-war independence, Kaunas was a key centre of Modernist architecture inspired by national and international styles such as Bauhaus.
Important modernist landmarks built during this period include Christ’s Resurrection Church – designed by Karolis Reisonas following an architectural competition in 1928.
The iconic building was transformed during the Soviet era into a radio factory before being restored and reconsecrated twelve years ago.
Competition proposals must outline a ‘compelling setting and identity’ for the island and include a conceptual design for the national science and innovation centre.
Schemes which deliver a sustainability exemplar, retain existing panoramic views, respond to local setting, respect plans for a nearby convention centre and create a new symbol for the city are encouraged.
Submissions should include six A1-sized boards covering cityscape, exteriors, interiors, usability, sustainability and feasibility. A 500-word description will also be required.
Judges include Malcolm Reading of MRC, WilkinsonEyre Architects founding partner Jim Eyre, Robin Hoyle of the Glasgow Science Centre and Christos Passas from Zaha Hadid Architects.
Three finalists will each receive £12,400 and be invited into a negotiated procedure for the design contract with Kaunas City Municipality.
The deadline for applications is 2pm local time (GMT +3) on 14 September
How to apply
Visit the competition website for more information
Malcolm Reading Consultants
10 Ely Place
Tel: +44 (0)20 7831 2998
Q&A with architect, professor and member of Kaunas City Council Jonas Audėjaitis
Why is a symbolic building such as Science Island needed in Kaunas right now?
Our neighbours in Poland and Estonia have set the pace in building symbolic science centres. We are keen to catch up and encourage designers to come up with original ideas for Lithuania. This is a significant project for us because we envision Science Island as an important pillar of our knowledge economy. Kaunas is perfect geographically, logistically and its unique character – being the city of universities – means it is an ideal location for building a highly interactive and functional science centre.
What sort of architects are you hoping will apply?
We would like the broadest range of architects to apply – we are genuinely open-minded and whole point of a design competition is to embrace different perspectives. But yes, we don’t want a clichéd or standard design, we want something fresh, something which reflects the latest design-thinking so we’re sensitive to new and emerging practices – we’d love to discover someone.
Do you expect entries to draw on Kaunas’ unique landscape and architectural history?
Of course. Kaunas is becoming a destination for people interested in architecture. There is something very exceptional in Kaunas, which attracts the tourists and might be interesting for specialists. The architecture of modernism flourished in Lithuanian during the interwar period. Kaunas – the temporary capital assimilated the tendencies of the modernism that spread through the most part of the Western World. This feature marks Kaunas as an exceptional in the context of Lithuania. We expect the entries to respect the architectural identity of Kaunas and to be a lighthouse for the twenty-first century downtown.
Which other symbolic buildings or science centres have impressed you recently?
The Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw, the Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg and the Experimentarium in Copenhagen. The MuSe Museum by Italian architect Renzo Piano in Trento and the science center NEMO in Amsterdam are worth mentioning for the unexpected approaches, which interpret the same building-type in a different architecture pattern. We hope the new building is going to symbolize the age of innovation and respect genius loci.
Will the Brexit vote have any implications for the contest or on the UK practices wanting to enter the contest?
The competition is anonymous and searching globally for the right team – we welcome UK as well as any other country’s practices wanting to enter the competition. The Diaspora of Lithuanians working in the architectural offices in UK in partnership with their British colleagues are also very welcome to join us in generating the best architectural idea for Kaunas. There are no borders for science and art.