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Competition: Science Island, Kaunas

An open international competition has been launched for a €25 million national science and innovation centre in Kaunas, Lithuania (Deadline: 14 September)

Organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, the single-stage contest seeks proposals for a 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, flexible events space and a cafeteria.

The project’s overall aim, according to the brief, ‘is to foster and advance the development of science and culture in Kaunas, and in Lithuania as a whole …

‘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’s 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 submitted 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.

The 33ha islet is currently used for outdoor sports and leisure. It 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.



Competition site

Other nearby partner organisations 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, Vilnius.

Kaunas is in the centre of Lithuania, around 100km from Vilnius, and is the country’s second largest settlement. Last year it was designated a UNESCO city of design.

During Lithuania’s brief interwar independence, while Vilnius was under Polish and Soviet control, Kaunas was the country’s temporary capital, and a key centre of Modernist architecture inspired by national and international styles such as Bauhaus.



Source: Image by Creative

Christ’s Resurrection Church

Important Modernist landmarks built during this period include Christ’s Resurrection Church – designed by Karolis Reisonas following an architectural competition in 1928.

During the Soviet era the building was transformed into a radio factory before being restored and reconsecrated 12 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 are encouraged to 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.

Submissions should include six A1-sized boards covering cityscape, exteriors, interiors, usability, sustainability and feasibility, together with a 500-word description.

Judges include Malcolm Reading of MRC, WilkinsonEyre founding partner Jim Eyre, Robin Hoyle of the Glasgow Science Centre and Christos Passas from Zaha Hadid Architects.

Three finalists will each receive €15,000 and be invited into a negotiated procedure for the design contract with Kaunas City Municipality.

How to apply


14.00 local time (GMT +3) on 14 September

Contact details

Sophia White
Malcolm Reading Consultants
10 Ely Place

Tel: +44 (0)20 7831 2998

Visit the competition website for more information

Phaeno Science Centre case study: Q&A with Zaha Hadid Architects

The London studio discusses lessons learned designing a new 27,000m² science centre in Wolfsburg, Germany

What are the core requirements of a science centre such as Phaeno?

The Phaeno Science Centre represented the largest single investment ever made by the city of Wolfsburg. The design is inspired by the idea of a magic box, which awakens curiosity and the desire for discovery. The museum building occupies an important site in the centre of the city at the culmination of a chain of important cultural buildings by Aalto, Scharoun and Schweger, and is connected by a new bridge to Volkswagen’s car manufacturing city. The building skillfully combines internal and external spaces. The main exhibition hall is raised 7m above ground in order to permit a wide range of perspectives. At 10 different points, the hovering block seems to be pulled down in wedge shapes or ‘cones’, which serve to bear its weight and at the same time provide unique spaces for the shop, restaurant, entrance hall, science theatre and workshops.



Source: Image by Werner Huthmacher

Phaeno Science Centre by ZHA

Which material, structural and design techniques are available to architects seeking to achieve a similarly impressive outcome?

The visitor is faced with a degree of complexity and strangeness, ruled by a very specific system based on an unusual volumetric structural logic. The floors are neither piled above each other nor could they be seen as a single volume. The Phaeno’s mass is supported and also structured by funnel-shaped cones protruding into it and extending from it. Through some of these funnels the interior of the box is accessible; others are used to lighten the space inside, while some of them house necessary functions. This project combines formal and geometric complexity with structural audacity and material authenticity. A lot of time and energy was concentrated on achieving this result.



Source: Image by Werner Huthmacher

Phaeno Science Centre by ZHA