Sphere signposts route to knowledge

ARTICLE The newly built Wisdome in Gothenburg is one of the most advanced visualisation domes in the world. With its spectacular appearance and location on top of Universeum, it has become a new landmark in Gothenburg.

Given its playful appearance, it is not surprising that many motorists driving by on the E6 highway think the Wisdome is connected to neighbouring Liseberg amusement park. In fact, the visualisation dome has become an important new feature of the national science centre, Universeum, the aim of which is to disseminate scientific advances and explain complex events in a more accessible way. The Wisdome’s activities are based on research conducted at Visualisation Centre C in Norrköping and Linköping University.

»Around 70 percent of our sensory cells are located on the retina, which means that we can absorb very complex information when we receive it in images. The ambition is to bridge the gap between various research fields and us ordinary citizens so that we can create our own image and understanding of different scientific contexts,« explains Carina Halvord, CEO of Universeum.

The Wisdome in Gothenburg is the largest of five new visualisation domes in Sweden, the others being in Stockholm (Trä issue 2/23), Malmö, Umeå and Norrköping. Enveloped by a 360 degree and 443 square meter projection screen, the dome’s visitors can enjoy magnificent experiences of space, the sea and the human body in a way that makes it feel like you are immersed in the whole thing – which you very much are.

»In the data visualisation show ‘Big’, based on open software and data from organisations such as NASA and ESA, we can take interactive journeys into space in real time. Using data from observatories around the world, for example, we can ‘land’ on Mars and see the surface there down the centimetre,« says Carina Halvord.

A unique sustainability level

When Universeum opened in 2001, its sustainability level was unique in several respects. The activity centre, which includes huge aquariums, a tropical rainforest and experimental attractions, was built entirely of wood, with a clearly exposed timber frame – something that was relatively uncommon for such large buildings at the time. Other sustainable features included solar panels, a passive ventilation system and a urine separation system.

The sustainability thinking obviously continued with the design of the Wisdome, which incorporated wood from the outset. The job of creating the new dome went to Wingårdhs, who also designed the original Universeum building.

»The idea for the structure of the Wisdome is based on geodesic technology, which is a resource-efficient way of building domes,« says Gert Wingårdh, chief architect at Wingårdhs.

Seating up to 150 visitors, the dome has a diameter of 27.5 metres, and the total elevation from the street to the top is 57 metres. It is constructed as a glulam geodesic sphere made up of equilateral triangles, with steel connecting nodes and wooden façade elements. The internally visible parts of the dome are clad with CLT panels.

»The façade elements were made at a factory in Hällingsjö just outside Gothenburg, but because they were so large – the base and height of the triangles is eight metres – we had to divide them into two parts,« says Maria Normann, supervising architect at Wingårdhs.

However, the stairwell and most of the floor structure uses concrete.

»Since this is a place for visualisation technology, it’s vital that there are no vibrations. Accordingly, we needed concrete in the foundation to ensure that the projectors would be sufficiently stable – not least because Liseberg’s rides pass by right next door,« Maria continues.

The site-built screen inside the dome is made of 249 aluminium sheets attached to a steel skeleton. This in turn hangs from 16 chains that distribute the weight between the attachment points. All in all, the structure weighs 4.5 tonnes.

»The whole building has required extreme precision. We provided 3D models for the build, which the installers used on site to get the nodes correctly positioned in spatial terms. The dome structure deforms during construction and is only stable once the sphere is complete,« says Jonas Edblad, the project’s lead architect at Wingårdhs.

Room for new and modified functions and areas

Universeum saw the construction of the Wisdome as an ideal opportunity to also resolve its pent-up demand for new and modified functions and areas. This included a new restaurant section, a new entrance and reception desk, as well as more exhibition areas and elevators.

»The Wisdome was the engine for doing everything else. Putting the dome in the right place allowed us to achieve many other benefits and a better flow throughout the building. We also replaced the poorly functioning angled elevator with new elevator and stair towers. Their location means that it is now possible to use the new section for conferences and other events outside regular opening hours without having to open up the rest of the building,« says Gert Wingårdh.

Architect Jonas Edblad

The new extension adds an additional 4,500 square metres to the existing 10,000 square metres.

»The extension is divided into a lower section, an elevator tower and a bridge connecting the tower to the dome. The bridge has a span of 43 metres and a height of 6 metres, providing a large display area. At the other end, the bridge projects out nine metres and terminates in a conference room with a glazed façade and amazing views,« says Stefan Kastberg, designer at MW Byggtekniska, which was responsible for the wooden structures.

Apart from the concrete foundation, the evacuation staircase and the steel ties holding the wooden beams together, the extension, including the elevator tower, is constructed from spruce glulam and CLT. Most of the façade, including the dome, consists of small cedar shingles – the exception being the glazing in the stairwell.

Building on an existing building

»One of the biggest challenges of the build was the special shape of the dome, which has no two parts the same and required a number of custom solutions. Another was the mix of materials and the connections between wood and concrete, steel and wood, and steel and concrete, especially in the dome,« says Stefan Kastberg.

Christofer Barkebo, from construction company Skeppsviken, agrees.

»Another challenge was having to build up in the air, on top of an existing building. We set up scaffolding inside the dome that went all the way to the top. In addition, we had numerous climbers fixing the joints between the different elements. A lot of the elements were prefabricated. But when we were making the bridge, we had to do some assembly work on site because the elements were too big to be transported at full size. The longest glulam posts were 19 metres long,« he says.

It should also be added that the work was carried out in parallel with extensive excavation work in the surrounding area due to the West Link rail line being built in Gothenburg.

»Because of this, we also had some problems with groundwater issues and had to pump a lot of water,« recalls Jonas Edblad.

With everything that has been done, sustainability has always been an important starting point. For a start, the operation itself is about researching and disseminating knowledge on the sustainable use of the planet’s resources. The materials have consistently been chosen to be reusable, recyclable and have as little impact as possible on the environment.

»We’ve primarily tried to work with local suppliers and materials. The exception is the façade, where we preferred spruce shingles but couldn’t source such large quantities. Instead, we chose cedar shingles from Canada because they have a natural protection against rot and are virtually maintenance-free. They also have a relatively low carbon footprint despite the long-haul transport,« says Maria Normann.

Glulam as part of the interior design

In the restaurant area, the chairs are made from recycled fishing nets, the tables from durable, recycled flooring material, and the menu is based on what is best from a sustainability perspective that week.

»In the reception area, we’ve made the glulam part of the interior design by forming the new reception desk out of glulam beams. We’ve designed it so that children can climb up and stand on it, while at the same time ensuring that it’s easily accessible for wheelchair users and user-friendly for the staff,« says Sara Helder, lead interior designer at Wingårdhs.

And wherever you go in the new building, you are embraced by wood, not only visually but also through the inviting scent.

»Universeum has a warmer feel. I’m so pleased with what the new extension and dome have added to the city’s skyline – and because it will make a big difference in spreading and democratising knowledge in a range of scientific fields,« concludes Carina Halvord.

Get news & inspiration from Swedish Wood

Sign up and get information about publications and other news from Swedish Wood by email.

Sign up for the newsletter