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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Case Study: Techne Sphere by Oscar Niemeyer

Celebrated for his modernist, curved creations, Oscar Niemeyer’s vision for a white concrete and glazed sphere has been realised posthumously with Eyrise dynamic window technology, offering sun protection while respecting the purity of his design.

The iconic Brazilian architect was approached by Ludwig Koehne, owner of a manufacturing plant in Leipzig, Germany, in 2011 to build an extension to his factory’s canteen. Following Niemeyer’s death in 2012, his sketches were further developed by his assistant Jair Valera and the project was executed by Leipzig-based Harald Kern Architects.  

Located at the Techne Sphere complex in the industrial district of Plagwitz, the sphere measures 12 metres in diameter. Comprising of an upper and lower hemisphere that house a restaurant and bar, the structure is positioned on the top corner of a nineteenth century listed building, with views overlooking the city.

Fifty wooden moulds were hand crafted to construct the framework for the sphere’s two concrete shells, leaving the challenge of how to provide shade to this complex spherical glass structure.

Additional elements such as shutters would have compromised Niemeyer’s vision as they would darken the interior and necessitate artificial lighting during the day.

Conventional electrochromic smart glazing was also ruled out as it was not possible to create the triangular panels required with this process. This glass is also slow to control glare, typically taking up to 15 minutes to fully transition, and tends to tint a bluish-brown colour that is then absorbed by objects in the inside environment. As the sphere was intended as a space where food is served, this would be off-putting.

Using new liquid crystal technology, Eyrise dynamic windows allowed the geometricrequirements of Niemeyer’s glass sphere to be kept, while preventing over-heating and enhancing wellbeing for occupants.

“Niemeyer liked the idea of creating a building that would benefit working people and the element of surprise that comes with seeing such a futuristic structure in the heart of an industrial space,” said plant owner Ludwig Koehne. “He was always open to new developments and would have approved of the use of innovative technology to realise his vision.” 

The resulting lattice pattern glass facade comprises 144 individually manufactured triangular glass modules of assorted sizes that darken and lighten instantaneously, and are controlled by a bespoke app.

“When the windows are tinted, they look dark from the outside. This corresponds well with the black and white contrast seen in much of Niemeyer’s architecture,” added Koehne.

The glass remains a transparent neutral grey colour across the tinting spectrum when viewed from inside, so natural light is preserved and the view to the outside is always retained.

“A fusion of art with technology, the sphere sets new standards in architecture for our increasingly digital world,” said Kai Beckmann, Member of the Board at Merck and CEO of Merck Performance Materials. “This space is all about wellbeing, sustainability and controlling the building’s energy footprint. Our Eyrise liquid crystal glass technology makes this possible by providing invisible shading and preventing over-heating, all while remaining true to Niemeyer’s spirit.” 

The sphere in Leipzig will count as Niemeyer’s final work, alongside a project in southern France. One of the most respected modern architects, Niemeyer’s projects include the United Nations headquarters, Serpentine Gallery in London, and the masterplan for the city of Brasilia.

Dynamic windows in an extraordinary landmark

An innovative product from science and technology company Merck, Eyrise glass uses advanced licrivision liquid crystal technology to produce smart transparent windows that can be tinted to provide instant solar shading without compromising on natural daylight.

How does it work?

The liquid crystal mixture is placed between two sheets coated with a transparent conductive film. Prompted by a low voltage, the molecules in the mixture change orientation and regulate the amount of light and heat passing through.


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