The House of Knowledge Work

Zentrum für Virtuelles Engineering (ZVE)
Photo: Christian Richters, © Fraunhofer IAO, UNStudio, ASPLAN


At a ceremony attended by Winfried Kretschmann , Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg, Fraunhofer IAO opens it´s new "Zentrum für Virtuelles Engineering ZVE"

On June 20, over 200 guests from the worlds of politics, business and science celebrated the official opening of Fraunhofer IAO’s "Zentrum für Virtuelles Engineering ZVE" in Stuttgart. In his speech at the ceremony, Winfried Kretschmann, Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg, spoke in praise of both the Fraunhofer institutes and the ZVE building, which was awarded a platinum certificate by the German Sustainable Building Council (Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen – DGNB).

"The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is an indispensable part of the German innovation landscape and a provider of strong impulses to local SMEs. With its new center, the IAO will once again be taking on a pioneering role," said Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann. "Without technological leadership, our companies would not be as competitive as they are, and we in Baden-Württemberg would not be able to enjoy the high standard of living that we do. That is why providing good education and high-performance research institutions is a key task of the state and an important focal point of our government policy."

The laboratory building, which was designed by star architect Ben van Berkel, sets new standards in more ways than one. The exterior architecture is impressive, while its interior is equipped with future-oriented laboratories and office landscapes. The Institute’s Director, Prof. Dieter Spath, explained the interactive relationship between this new workplace and the research activities it will house: "The ZVE demonstrates that the right environment not only encourages productivity and efficiency, but also promotes creativity and ideas."

Owing to its exemplary levels of efficiency, eco-friendliness and resource conservation, the ZVE building was honored at its opening by the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) with a platinum DGNB certificate for excellence in sustainable building.

The concept of sustainability also plays a key role in the research work being carried out at the ZVE, as Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann duly discovered during a tour of the building: "As we organize the transition to a sustainable energy regime and make the necessary changes to our system of mobility, the employees here at the Fraunhofer site in Stuttgart will be better placed than ever before to understand and master our future working world and systems of human settlement." The 14 million euro project was financed in equal parts by the federal and Baden-Württemberg governments, with the latter utilizing financial resources from the Future Offensive III (funds provided by the Baden-Württemberg Stiftung). Around 4 million euros of the total sum was spent on equipping the new labs.

"Transforming our cities into sustainable urban centers poses new challenges in the fields of energy and water supplies, infrastructure, waste disposal and mobility," said Prof. Hans-Jörg Bullinger, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. "In the ZVE, Fraunhofer IAO has created an ideal research environment for finding new solutions to the tasks awaiting us in the fields of urban living and e-mobility."

A research platform for the future

The building, which was conceived as a platform for research, development and testing of virtual reality technologies and innovative ideas for workplaces/offices, has more than 3,200 m2 of usable floor space, two thirds of which are set aside for laboratories and demonstration centers. "We are creating new environments in which researchers will feel right at home carrying out work focused on innovation," said Dr. Wilhelm Bauer. His vision of a "house of knowledge work" played a decisive role in the design of the institute’s new building and, in the course of the official opening, he was honored as an "Übermorgenmacher" ("Tomorrow-Maker") to mark the 60th anniversary of the state’s birth.

Lab equipment and office infrastructure of the highest possible quality

At the ZVE, interdisciplinary teams of Fraunhofer scientists will carry out basic research into key topics such as Fraunhofer’s “Morgenstadt” (its vision of the city of tomorrow), future mobility, visual technologies and digital engineering.

When developing and testing a wide array of innovations, they will have laboratories at their disposal that are equipped with cutting-edge technology:

  • Digital Engineering Lab
    Integrated development and design of products and production systems
  • Immersive Engineering Lab
    Testing and developing the prototypes of products and buildings in virtual worlds
  • Visual Technologies Lab
    Ergonomic and energy-efficient deployment of innovative illumination and display systems
  • Mobility Innovation Lab
    Research into the future mobility of people, goods and information
  • Urban Living Lab
    Utilization scenarios and sample applications for innovative services in "Morgenstadt"
  • Workspace Innovation Lab
    Research, development and design of multilocal working environments

Pilot research with the institute’s own building

From the very outset, Fraunhofer IAO experts worked together in interdisciplinary project teams with the architects and building planners to design and construct their new building.

"We constantly took advantage of the planning and construction process to utilize and strengthen our scientific know-how in the fields of virtual engineering and workspace innovation. A number of research projects even arose in the course of the building’s construction, e.g. in the field of illumination technology," explained Prof. Spath during his welcome address at the opening ceremony.

Platinum DGNB certificate for sustainability

In terms of sustainability, the new building can already boast numerous advantages. Its energy is supplied by a geothermal system comprising several 170-meter wells, which help cool the building in summer and heat it in winter. Cooling tubes integrated in the ceilings function like air conditioning on the basis of the "concrete core activation" principle. Hollow block ceilings consist of concrete in which air-filled spheres are embedded. That makes the ceilings light without reducing their load-bearing capacity. Innovative building automation systems regulate heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting. The sprinkler system tank is used to store the energy produced by the building in the form of residual heat, e.g. from its computer centers and the high-performance projectors in the virtual reality labs. An energy measurement and monitoring system analyzes the effectiveness of these various measures.

When presenting the DGNB certificate on the morning of the official opening, Dr. Christine Lemaitre, Managing Director of the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB), explained why the building had earned this special honor: "The ZVE is a landmark for attractive and sustainable building construction. The platinum DGNB certificate is awarded to buildings that achieve at least 80 percent of the total possible point score during our audit. In addition to eco-friendliness and high quality in planning and construction, comfort and convenience for the building’s users are of key importance. The ZVE has mastered this task in an intelligent and inventive way – and we congratulate its builders and planners on their achievement."

A balance between offices, laboratories and public zones

On behalf of ASPLAN and UNStudio, the two architectural design studios responsible for the project, Prof. Ben van Berkel of UNStudio explained the ZVE vision: "Fraunhofer IAO’s ZVE was conceived as a totally new prototype, the purpose of which is to demonstrate how contemporary ideas of the workplace can be transformed into architecture, thus inspiring new working methods for the future. The traditional division of an office building into individual offices has for the most part given way to workspaces that flow into each other and offer a variety of different visual perspectives, areas for both spontaneous and planned meetings, and flexible ‘experimental offices’ with shared workplaces. Communication is the key to new work processes, and we designed the ZVE in such a way that its architecture encourages communication at all levels."

Leopold Horinek of ASPLAN was impressed by the enthusiasm that the ZVE users showed right from the very first sketches: "Their positive attitude was infectious, and we too embarked on this new adventure full of enthusiasm – eager to tackle the challenge of turning virtual reality into architectural reality."

The speeches were made al fresco, as it were, under the Virtual Sky technology developed by Fraunhofer lighting experts, which floods the building’s auditorium with natural light. This was just one of the center’s innovative highlights that guests could experience on the afternoon of the opening.