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House of Science.
House of Science.

House of Science: synergy of science and studies
Aija Pakalna
15.12.2017

On September 27th, at the Academic centre of the University of Latvia (ACUL) in Torņakalns, a foundation stone with a time capsule – a message to future generations – was laid into the foundation of the House of Science. The time capsule also contains an issue of the magazine Alma Mater that describes the building and its significance.

Recently, a new construction site was set up next to the Academic Centre of Natural Sciences (ACNS) built two years ago in Torņakalns. It is a second building of the ACUL complex – The House of Science – set to be finished next autumn.

The construction of the House of Science, funded by the European Union, was started this summer. The building will house two faculties (Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Physics and Mathematics) and six institutes (Institute of Physics, Institute of Geodesy and Geoinformatics, Institute of Cardiology and Regenerative Medicine, Institute of Atomic Physics and Spectroscopy, Institute of Polymer Mechanics, and Institute of Astronomy). Similarly to the ACNS, it will offer students and academic staff infrastructure that fully meets modern requirements for studies, science and research. It is planned that up to 430 staff members and 2000 students will work and study at the House of Science daily.

The House of Science will foster synergy and efficiency

The building was designed in one and a half years in close cooperation with students, researchers and academic staff, who provided recommendations and ideas for it to have what they need the most. Upon completion of the House of Science, all educational and research UL branches of exact, medical and natural sciences will be located in one place – at the ACUL in Torņakalns. This will ensure the most efficient use of infrastructure and human resources, thus enhancing synergy of studies and research and promoting creativity, efficiency and unification of all processes, claims the UL Torņakalns project team.

‘Interdisciplinary trend is very popular nowadays, and blending approaches to research and studies is a new way of fostering innovations. When faculties and institutes are scattered over a large area, human interaction slows down. Undoubtedly, people can reach each other via e-mail and telephone, or commute from one faculty to another... However, it is so much better when everything is close at hand – in a nearby house, in a lab next door’, comments Edīte Megne, team leader of the UL Torņakalns development project.

Unification of UL faculties and institutes was one of the key tasks for the architect bureau Sestais stils. ‘Connecting faculties and creating the most appropriate scientific environment we will encourage people to leave their ‘cells’ and communicate with others. Students and researchers will be able to work in much bigger groups – not only in traditional classrooms or in offices. Additionally, comfortable working environment encourages teachers and students to get out of classrooms, get together and discuss questions of mutual interest. Thus, efficient communication will be fostered, and that is crucially important in the age of the internet’, says Vita Polkovņikova, architect of the House of Science from Sestais stils.

Moreover, communication will be also facilitated by infrastructure – the House of Science will be connected to the ACNS by a heated passage on the second floor. It will allow students and staff to move easily from one building to another and will ensure that premises, installations and equipment at both buildings are used efficiently.

The design with futuristic notes

The House of Science – similarly to ACNS, one of the most popular architectural objects in Riga – will awe visitors with its impressive design, modern interior and a wide range of possibilities for research.

The architects have designed the building with some elements of futuristic style. Attention will be paid even to smallest details to create vivid associations with exact sciences. ‘We decided to bend lines and edges of the façade to make it truly original. Lining materials were carefully selected for better associations with exact sciences. For example, the suspended acoustic ceiling with oval shapes should remind of cells and neurons’, says the architect Alise Jēkabsone.

However, the first thing that will catch your eye when you enter the building is a wide and large courtyard, or atrium. While at the ACNS the atrium is outdoors, here it will be inside with rooms and laboratories facing inwards. The atrium is designed to be very bright thanks to the lightwood finish and natural light coming from the glass ceiling. It is also planned to build a multifunctional main staircase at the centre of the atrium, but a drop-down screen opposite the stairs will make it a perfect place for lectures and various events.

‘The goal of this architectural solution is to connect and involve people, so that anyone passing the atrium could join any event. The spacious atrium will certainly become a place for major events and exhibition openings’, says Alise Jēkabsone.

It is a one-of-a-kind solution in Latvia, but the idea is not entirely new. ‘We have seen it at other campuses in Europe and know that it works rather well. If you take an elevator to the very top of the building you can see and hear everything perfectly’, says Ineta Tumaševska, manager of the UL infrastructure development department. She also noted that the events around the main staircase will not hinder the movement to and from other parts of the building thanks to the stairs that stretch around the atrium up to the 7th floor. The main staircase will also serve as a meeting point or for socializing.

Similarly to the ACNS, the new building will offer students, researchers and staff spacious classrooms, conference halls, workrooms and areas for relaxation and socialisation where it will be possible to make tea or coffee, hold discussions and work together on research, projects or innovative ideas. ‘Global practice shows that open shared spaces are essential for promoting synergy between science and studies. By working together people exchange ideas increasing their creative potential crucial in research and development of innovative ideas’, says Edīte Megne. When it is necessary to work intensively with scientific papers or publications, researchers will be able to do that undisturbed in their offices.

The well-equipped terrace garden with benches on the seventh floor of the House of Science will become a perfect place for students and academic staff to relax and communicate.

Taking a break is essential for creative minds, stresses the architect Alise Jēkabsone. However, the terrace has a practical purpose as well. Landscaped and greened balconies will visually merge both buildings creating a unified architectural landscape and offering a wonderful view over entire complex.

Laser Center and bacteria-proof lab among the most impressive facilities

The University’s first so-called ‘clean room’ – laboratory with pollution control – will operate at the House of Science. Its special air ventilation system will keep levels of dust, microbes and various particles very low. The lab is designed to prepare cell and tissue materials for clinical and research purposes, e.g., for research on new cells and tissues and their use in regenerative medicine. Entering the room will be allowed only in sterile clothing to prevent indoor pollution. Study samples will be brought in through a special sluice.

The Laser Centre of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics, which conducts scientific research exploring new uses of lasers, will be also relocated to the House of Science. Lasers are widely used in medicine – general and cosmetic surgery, vision correction, and skin cancer diagnosis and treatment, for example, in photodynamic therapy that irradiates cancer cells with red laser beams. Despite its world-class research staff at the Laser Centre looks forward to new premises with planned improvements in virtually any aspect of research: climate control, clean air and elimination of mechanical oscillations on working surfaces that interfere with the most sensitive measurements.

The House of Science will provide students and researchers with 78 laboratories in Pharmacy, Pharmacology, Chemistry, Physics, Materials Science and Laser Centre; medical branch will encompass laboratories in Microscopy, Histology and Pathology, Human Anatomy and facilities for artificial anatomical models and simulations. State-of-the-art equipment will allow conducting studies on a much higher level than before. Furthermore, the laboratories will be unique not only in Latvia, but also in the Baltic States.

‘We expect the new infrastructure to stimulate interest of foreign scientists in collaboration and developing joint international research projects with the University of Latvia. Research infrastructure is an important element that characterizes the competitiveness of any scientific institution. Modern, stimulating and creative study environment will also contribute to the attraction of local and foreign students. This is also evident from experience of other European universities, where the attraction of foreign students was successfully implemented by a purposeful development of study programmes and infrastructure’, admits Edīte Megne, the team manager of the UL Torņakalns development project.

The House of Science will promote opening of the academic square

The House of Science is a logical step in the development of the ACUL with the same quality standards and principles incorporated at the ACNS. Upon completion of the House of Science, one of greatest expectations of the complex – the courtyard or the Academic Square – will become available to the public, says Vita Polkovņikova. Both buildings will surround the large expanse of the square creating a light atmosphere and a sense that University is an urban area", clarifies V. Polkovņikova.

According to the architect, the square will be landscaped and equipped for hosting open-air lectures and various events including graduation ceremonies. Parking area for cars and bicycles will be located under the square.

After completion of the House of Science, the development of the ACUL will continue with the relocation of other UL branches to Torņakalns. The House of Humanities for the adepts of social and humanitarian sciences will be built and fully equipped by 2020. It is expected that ACUL will consist of four buildings for research and studies: the House of Science, the Academic Centre of Natural Sciences, the House of Humanities and the Centre of Technologies. In addition, there will be also dormitories and apartments for students, and new sports facilities. 

Facts about the House of Science

•           Construction was started in summer 2017 and will be completed in autumn 2018

•           Total area – 19,800 m2

•           The building will host up to 2000 students and 430 employees daily

•           The House of Science will accommodate:

o   Six institutes:

•     The Institute of Physics

•     The Institute of Geodesy and Geo-Informatics

•     The Institute of Cardiology and Regenerative Medicine

•     The Institute of Atomic Physics and Spectroscopy

•     The Institute of Polymer Mechanics

•     The Institute of Astronomy

o   Two faculties:

•     The Faculty of Medicine

•     The Faculty of Physics and Mathematics

o   Eight seminar halls (10-20 seats each)

o   15 auditoriums (a big auditorium for 300 students, six auditoriums with more than 50 seats and eight small classrooms with less than 50 seats)

o   Two computer labs with 48 working places

o   78 scientific and study laboratories

o   A library and a reading room.