Elastic Envelopes

Established in 1954 as one of Europe’s first international collaborative ventures, CERN has expanded to become the world’s largest experimental particle physics laboratory. Located in the northwest suburbs of Geneva on the Franco-Swiss border, the scientific institution utilizes advanced particle accelerators and detectors to study the basic constituents of matter. Despite the precision and extreme accuracy of the highly complex scientific instruments, the campus proper has evolved in a seemingly haphazard manner, responding only to the necessary requirements of the machinery. Architecture is an afterthought. 

CERN Building Conglomerations

CERN Building Conglomerations

CERN’s campus development and expansion of building facilities have been erratic, lacking a coherent organizing principle. One result of this casual pattern of growth has been the tendency to produce building clusters which aggregate over time. This precedent for iterative and context responsive growth is seen as a productive design tactic. The proposal seeks to further develop and expand on these improvisational growth logics of conglomeration by adding a new later of building systems into the mix. The buildings at CERN are thus conceptualized as outdated systems requiring a series of performative upgrades. The proposal embraces a condition of futurism derived from construction, cybernetics and robotics to imagine a potential architectural apparatus for CERN. 


The architecture is thus conceived as a series of new technologically advanced roof, ceiling and curtain wall systems to be distributed throughout the existing cluster of buildings. This includes the replacement of existing building skins with elastic sleeves: new curtain wall membranes which, in conjunction with new roof canopies, are designed to collect and distribute snow and rainwater runoff. The stored water is then utilized as gray water, for irrigation of the inverted garden ceiling systems at the base of each building, and as a source of natural heating and cooling by way of wind and solar exposure. 

The water storage curtain wall membrane wraps the structures of the building, harvesting rainwater and harnessing wind power through the infrastructure. The microturbines in the roof feathers store energy, while the water operates as a thermal wall. 

Additional proposed systems include an inverted garden at the ground level of existing structures. The ceiling system creates new spatial and programmatic configurations for a semi-enclosed mixed-use space at the base of the existing building. Working with the microclimates created by the inverted garden, the localized radiant floor heating and wet columns control the temperature of the new space. Biofuel powered personal mobility units are regenerated when parked at the base of the structure.

Enhanced Building Components


Mounted on tracks, the algae tubes form a light scrim which can be raised and lowered to accomodate changing levels of daylight. The harvested biofuel provides a clean source of energy for CERN and is used to power the onsite public transportation.

This system was designed to expand and contract vertically in response to changing sun angles, allowing the building skin to harness sunlight and stimulate algae growth while adjusting interior day lighting levels.