François Chapuis, construction has been ongoing on Irchel Campus since 2016. What’s the current status of the building work?
François Chapuis: Work on the first new university building in 20 years, the laboratory building for the Department of Chemistry, UZI 5, is almost done. The interior work will be completed by the end of January 2021, followed by comprehensive structural tests. The UZI 5 building will then be ready to move into in the summer. We are also planning the interim use of the old chemistry building, which we’re making available to three Zurich high schools. And then we’re preparing for the next building project, a new two-story building for the Functional Genomics Center Zurich, which will stand next to UZI 5 and be completed in 2024.
Was it the plan all along for the Functional Genomics Center Zurich to have its own building?
No. The plot for this building was added while the design plan was being developed. In the new building, the center will have all its equipment in one place. This makes for easier working, both for in-house researchers and outsiders using this research platform.
What exactly is included in the design plan?
The design plan defines the individual plots and determines how many square meters of space the future building may hold. Other aspects are covered by a number of concepts that complement the design plan, for example the mobility concept, which shows how campus can be reached on foot, by bicycle or public transport. Or the open space concept, which focuses on how the new buildings will be carefully integrated into the surrounding “green spaces”, and on how Irchelpark can be enhanced and developed by including trees, meadows and bodies of water.
The design plan is really exemplary and gives us a complete overview of what’s going on. We recently submitted the entire bundle of specialized concepts to the Building Department of the Canton of Zurich.
What happens next?
If the design plan is approved by the head of the Building Department of the Canton of Zurich, we’ll be able to reliably plan ahead for the next 20 years. It would be a milestone.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the new building project for the Department of Chemistry?
Fortunately, the pandemic hasn’t had much of an impact so far. The interior work was delayed by almost four months, because our suppliers from Italy couldn’t deliver the lab furniture for the building. Nevertheless, our chemists will still be able to move into the new building in early August 2021.
What was the biggest challenge in building this new laboratory?
The level of technology, without a doubt. The UZI 5 building is practically one giant machine enveloped by walls. The building’s technology is extremely complex. For example, the gigantic ventilation system circulates 570,000 cubic meters of air each hour, thereby providing a stable temperature and climate and ensuring the lab employee’s safety. The old lab building only managed 120,000 cubic meters. Some 90,000 sensors record a constant stream of building, energy and environmental data, and in this way optimize the building’s energy efficiency and regulate its technical systems.
How will UZH chemists benefit from their new building?
One of the perks will be the multifunctional layout in the laboratory spaces. The labs are standardized in terms of equipment and have several connective appliances. This means that everybody is working with the same infrastructure and can change their workspaces as needed. The building’s office space will be a mix of fixed and shared workstations, common rooms and private spaces.
The Department of Chemistry has almost 300 employees. What can you do to ensure that the move into the new building will go smoothly?
We’re going to commission a company that will help us plan and carry out the move. More specifically, we’ll launch a change management project, as such a move not only involves transporting objects from one place to another, but of course also affects people. Moving is a change process that often comes with insecurity and conflict, especially when employees’ workspaces change – as will be the case for some in the new building.
We’re showing employees sample labs and visualizations of their future workspaces to give them a better idea of their new workplace. With the help of an external expert, the teams will discuss how they want to shape their new working environment and how they can work with each other there.
The actual move will be a staggered process, which will take place from August 2021 until the end of the year. But it won’t just be a matter of plug-and-play. We’re transporting and recalibrating state-of-the-art devices and machines, avoiding interruptions to research experiments wherever possible – this requires excellent coordination among the involved teams. A major challenge will be to ensure that the lab workspaces needed to teach students will be ready by the beginning of the Fall Semester.
The newly empty chemistry building on Irchel Campus will be made available to three Zurich high schools. Why?
There are two reasons for this. First, it enables us to provide the Canton of Zurich, which is responsible for renovating the school buildings, with space it urgently needs. Without this alternative, for example, the Zürich Nord high school couldn’t continue to teach all of its classes, which means that renovation work would have to be carried out in a staggered process. By moving to Irchel Campus, the high school can save a lot of time and money.
And second, if we delay fully renovating the old chemistry building while we build the FORUM UZH on City Campus, we can avoid investment peaks for UZH. Our plan is to tackle all of our major construction projects one by one. Once we’ve completed the FORUM UZH, likely in 2028, we’ll start construction work on two new rectangular, so-called silhouette buildings on Irchel Campus, which will extend towards Winterthurerstrasse and mark the future entrance to the extended campus. The goal is to have these buildings completed at the same time as the high schools leave campus.
Does the previous chemistry building need work done to serve as a temporary high school?
Yes. First, all the partition walls have to be pulled down, and the building’s insides have to be removed, so to speak. New walls then have to be built according to the needs of the high schools – to put in place classrooms, teachers’ lounges, music rooms, labs and study spaces.
Are there detailed plans for the “silhouette” buildings already?
Usage plans should be available by the spring of 2022. Next March, we’ll launch an architectural competition, and we aim to have the entries reviewed and assessed by December 2021. What we already know is that the buildings will feature additional classrooms and laboratories as well as a cafeteria. Another key element of the two buildings will be their plinths, which will serve as the energy and logistics center of Irchel Campus.
Speaking of energy, the energy requirements of the current research infrastructure on Irchel Campus is already very high and are set to increase as a result of the new lab building and additional buildings. How can UZH still comply with its sustainability goals?
By optimizing our energy cycle. We’re planning to build an anergy grid, which can store waste heat underground using geothermal probes. This energy can then be used for heating in the winter. This way, UZH can reduce its energy consumption for heating and cooling by 75 percent, requiring only little additional district heating as a result. In addition, in future 10 percent of UZH’s entire energy requirements is to be covered by photovoltaics. This amount corresponds to the energy needed for the entire IT infrastructure on Irchel Campus.
Significantly more people will visit Irchel Campus in the future, putting a strain on public transport. Is UZH prepared to help avoid public transport bottlenecks?
The Zurich Public Transport services (VBZ) has measured the relevant public transport capacity. Together with the city of Zurich, they demonstrated that there will be no bottlenecks looking ahead as far as 2030. Should public transport reach its limit in the distant future, the trams and buses could run at shorter intervals.
Vision Campus Irchel 2050 – permanent exhibition, new contributions
Since early November 2019, the permanent exhibition Vision Campus Irchel 2050 presents how the campus will develop into an open site full of life. Visitors can find out about the various development steps, from the groundbreaking ceremony in 1973 to the year 2050. The exhibition is updated on a regular basis and since September 2020 has included information on sustainable building at UZH and future workplaces.
As a new feature, the 3D platform luucy now enables visitors to experience Vision Campus Irchel 2050 in three dimensions. Visitors can see how the new buildings will be integrated into the existing campus and how the surrounding green spaces will be developed.
The editorial team reserves the right to not publish comments. We will not publish anonymous, defamatory, racist, sexist, otherwise prejudiced, or irrelevant comments. UZH News will also not publish comments with advertising content.