Levitt Bernstein and TKMT architectes have completed a new visitor centre as part of the Institut Laue-Langevin campus in Grenoble, a pan-European initiative providing neutrons to visiting researchers for experiments and analysis at the molecular level. The new building will give access to the institute’s array of state-of-the-art equipment and provide scientists with a base for their work. Also included are new conference facilities, bookable lab space and healthcare support. Inspired by the nearby neutron accelerator, the design of the building takes its cues from specific scientific methods, while also creating highly functional, multipurpose spaces.
A London-based team from Levitt Bernstein and TKMT architectes, located in Grenoble, won the original visitor centre design competition as a pan European collaboration. This partnership reflects the international boundary-crossing efforts of the Institute itself, which is largely backed by the UK, France and Germany.
Conceived in two halves, the centre is split into public and private zones to balance accessibility with more secure functions. The new building has a delicate and intricate appearance, underpinned by a solid, muscular structure. Slender white perforated fins on the exterior, modulate daylight and privacy and are arranged in a lenticular pattern inspired by the process of neutron diffraction. The fins alter the appearance of the façade, from morning to evening, during different weather conditions and when viewed from alternative angles. A singular skylight pushes its way through the roof of the building and provides natural light throughout the space.
With scientists forming the client group, even small changes could have a large impact on how the occupants could use various spaces. The designers therefore rigorously explored every material and detail decision.
The interiors are crisp, white and calm – featuring elements of timber joinery to offer moments of warmth and texture. A large helical exposed concrete stair rises from the ground to the upper level, which is set in a double-height space with a floor-to-ceiling window. The staircase becomes a sculptural object when viewed from the outside and reveals the life and activity within the building as people move through each level day and night.
Gary Tidmarsh, Chairman of Levitt Bernstein said ‘We have thoroughly enjoyed the entire process of realising this project, from the initial competition win in 2019 to our close collaboration with ex colleagues and friends TKMT. ILL had given us an opportunity to create a building constructed from a limited number of materials, specifically selected for an optimised research environment. The visitor centre offers a calm and elegant base to showcase ILL’s innovative work, sitting in contrast to the dramatic skyline of the Alps, which can be viewed by visitors as they move around each new space.’
Marion Tribolet, Director of TKMT architectes added ‘We have been very happy to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Levitt Bernstein and share ideas together throughout the design process, to create this new, exemplary building for the ILL. As local architects, we have felt a deep sense of satisfaction to see the building so well received by its users – this is the greatest reward for us.’
A representative of the institute commented: ‘The new building has completely changed the way we welcome our visitors and employees when they arrive at ILL. The new space is expansive and bright, creating a contemporary and gentle atmosphere. Our own offices are particularly comfortable, with moderate temperatures and incredible views of the Grenoble mountains beyond.’