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The Phaeno Science Centre, by Zaha Hadid, is in a key position beside the railway station and opposite the original Volkswagen car plant and is a high-profile addition to the central German city of Wolfsburg. Conceived as an 'experimental landscape', the building is composed of internal spaces described as 'craters, caverns, terraces and plateaux'.

Phaeno is the largest European building to use self-compacting concrete. The continuous structure is based on a distorted 150 x 90m grid and spans up to 50m between 10 irregularly-shaped conic supports with cantilevers reaching out to the trapezoidal perimeter. The design of the cones was intended to be entirely fluid, but the engineer, Adams Kara Taylor, redefined them so that each was either a triangle or quadrilateral in plan, with rounded corners of fixed radii. Although the shapes change from ground floor to concourse level as the cones flare out, they remain as either triangles or rectangles.

The exposed-steel roof, supported on five of the cones, is a two-way spanning Vierendeel system housing the services, offset by a pale-grey epoxy resin floor. The monochrome palette acts as a foil to the 250 interactive 'experimental stations' which cover an area of 9,000m 2. By doing away with a rigid hierarchy of spaces, the building allows visitors to interact with the exhibits in the order that they choose, rather than being given prescribed routes. There are also three 'visitor laboratories', a science theatre, a show crater, an 'ideas forum' and the obligatory restaurant and shop.

Stefan Behnisch If it were an award for client courage, this would be a clear winner. It was very brave of Wolfsburg to go for it; to choose Zaha in the competition.

Because, after all, this isn't for BMW or Volkswagen; this is for the public.

It's a good building, a good sculpture. But it is a little off-target. It's architecture for architects. But it contributes to the city. It's sculptural in a city which is very functional, and that's an asset.

Martha Schwartz The building is heroic, uid and sculptural. It takes my breath away. It truly is worth the trip and worthy of a pilgrimage. In this sense, and because of the bravery of a great client, it deserves the highest praise.

Isabel Allen It contributes as sculpture, but not so much in terms of public realm. If you compare the undercroft to, say, the rolling ground plane of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, which encourages people to sit and to claim a particular patch as their own, there is nothing to invite inhabitation at all. I can see that the underside of the building would work as an umbrella - a staggeringly beautiful umbrella - for big formal gatherings, but it's hard to imagine it being used in a more informal way.

Ian Ritchie It's Melnikov meets Corb. I think it's better than Zaha's BMW building.

But for me there is a very strong element of artifice about the topography.

It sets up a language of movement, but it doesn't actually take you anywhere.

You imagine it is going to take you up and over the railway line, but it doesn't. But I enjoyed moving around the building - I like the flow. The urban impression is a ship on a sea of asphalt. And the shop is the best I have ever seen in a museum.

Mariella Frostrup You feel like a bird; lifting and swooping, which is fabulous. I love Zaha's complete disregard for everything you think of as normal. But it seems odd to want to add to the greyness of a place that is grey all the time. I can see it working in a beautiful bucolic landscape, or somewhere with a wonderful climate. But in Wolfsburg? In November?

Stefan Behnisch I think the concrete is very beautiful. But I don't see why Zaha couldn't go all the way and use concrete instead of that cheap metal ceiling. I think it's a good building, don't get me wrong. But I have a feeling the communication between the exhibition people, the client and Zaha was not very open. I don't know that there is any real relationship between the building and the exhibits.

If somebody wanted to put a fashionable club in here, a disco - then great.

Martha Schwartz The interior is beautiful, and either must be completed entirely by Zaha or float quite independently of the building. In this case, it is the latter, and as such, I believe it works. My greatest concern is (perhaps predictably) with the treatment of the landscape. I am anguished. Zaha forcefully claims the territory, and then either because she is not able to lead the client, fight hard enough for it, or care enough for it, drops the ball here. The surface lacks tension and misses sculptural and space-making opportunities, and the material is poor and badly applied. It's too big a part of the overall to brush aside. I feel that the landscape portion delivers only half of what it could have delivered to the city. I suggest they fix the problem and try again. It could be one of the world's best building/landscapes.

Stefan Behnisch Architecturally, I think the building is very interesting. The handling of the facade, and the approach to the columns, I think is intellectually very interesting. The public space I think is not very interesting. But I would say it serves its purpose by attracting people to a very dull city.

Subcontractors and suppliers

Concrete E Heitkamp; steel Queck; concrete shuttering Doka; excavation Bauer;

metal facades Hübener & Möws Fassadentechnik; escalators Schindler; lifts Thyssen; sanitary HVAC Imtech; electrics Cegelec, Termath; media Krex;

insulation and drywalling Bode, Spoma; internal glazing Dorma Automatic;

lighting Cone 5 Prolicht Beleuchtungs; metalwork Krenz; metal and glass facades Gieseler, Lintner + Niessink Architect Zaha Hadid Architects, Mayer Baehrle Freie Architekten BDA Client City of Wolfsburg Structural engineers Adams Kara Taylor, Tokarz Freirichs Leipold Services engineers Buro Happold, NEK Cost consultant Hanscomb GmbH Lighting consultants Office for Visual Interaction, Fahlke & Dettmer Contract value: 40 million euros (£27 million) Date of completion: November 2005 Gross internal area: 12,000m

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