An unforeseen research building in Dübendorf

The construction of the innovative and safe building continues which from 2024 will house 30 laboratories and 30 offices of EMPA and EAWAG

The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
A finite element rendering of the future laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich from 2024

The inauguration ceremony of the future EMPA laboratory building was held on 14 July, currently under construction in Dübendorf, a Swiss municipality of 27.689 inhabitants in the Canton of Zurich in the District of Uster, within the new co-operative research campus with the EAWAG.

The building will one day house, among other things, highly sensitive research instruments.

To protect them from vibrations, the experts designed and planned the necessary infrastructure features accordingly – from massive concrete slabs to the smallest details.

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
In spring 2024, an innovative, vibration- and electromagnetic-proof building will house the laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich

The contractor Implenia Schweiz AG and the architectural firm SAM Architekten

The expansion of the joint campus of EMPA and EWAG in Dübendorf is progressing rapidly.

On 5 May 2021, construction work had started with the foundation stone laying ceremony, which was attended by representatives of the landowners, the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) and the Institute Swiss Federal Agency for Water Science and Technology (EAWAG), the general contractor Implenia Schweiz AG, the architectural firm SAM Architekten and the town hall of Dübendorf.

The next day, bulldozers went to the site and the necessary excavations began.

Almost four months later, on 3 September 2021, the foundation stone was laid, again in the presence of representatives of the partners involved in the project and around 50 guests.

On this occasion, a time capsule was placed in the foundations of the new laboratory building, with some typical objects of our era, as content for posterity.

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
The traditional tree signaling the completion of the roof of the future EMPA and EAWAG laboratories in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich from 2024

From May 5, 2021 to July 14, 2022, a tree on the roof and a time capsule

The next milestone was reached on 14 July: The laboratory building envelope was completed and reached its maximum height.

Traditionally, the groundbreaking ceremony is held, during which a small tree is placed on the roof as a prominent sign of the completion of the top and cladding.

For once, however, the focus of the ceremony was not on the managers of all the companies involved in the project, but on the people who actually did the work, the construction workers.

The latter were thanked by the owner of the building for their valuable work: an activity that effectively presented them with a series of challenges, starting with the preparation of the subsoil.

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
In spring 2024, an innovative, vibration- and electromagnetic-proof building will house the laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich

No shocks for the demands of electron microscopes and thermogravimetry

High performance is sometimes also delicate – many researchers at EMPA and EEAWAG know this from experience.

Whether it's electron microscopes, with which they examine atoms, or thermogravimetric analysis instruments, through which masses much lower than a microgram "weigh", these devices must be protected from the smallest vibrations.

Heavy footsteps in the adjacent corridor or the rattling of a tram in a distant street can also distort the measurement results.

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
In spring 2024, an innovative, vibration- and electromagnetic-proof building will house the laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich

A building activity governed by two golden rules: the VC-C and VC-E Vibration Criteria

This is a risk that EMPA is addressing in its future-proof building for quality research, from the initial design phase through to completion of the building, which will house around 30 laboratories and 30 offices from spring 2024. XNUMX.

The requirements for low-vibration buildings are high.

They are standardized and described in the technical regulations with the help of the VC categories (Vibration Criteria), also used in micro and nanotechnology, together with the permitted levels of "movement".

“The VC-C category, for example, is a suitable standard for light microscopes with magnification up to 1000x”, reads the German version of the regulations: in the new EMPA building it applies to all above-ground laboratories.

The stricter VC-E requirements, on the other hand, apply to the basement area, where the most sensitive instruments will be installed.

“The requirements for the highest precision equipment”, can be seen in the technical guidelines, “they can only be satisfied in a few cases, preferably on slabs without a basement”.

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
A structural dynamics element of the future laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the canton of Zurich from 2024: the building's typical pile foundation

Between two sources of shaking and traffic: a railway to the north, a road to the south…

Whether or not these specifications were met on the EMPA campus had to be evaluated in advance.

The location seemed unfavourable: there is a railway line with heavy trains on the northern border and a busy road bordering the site to the south, but a planned tram line is expected in the future, which will further increase the ground vibrations.

In the summer of 2018, specialists from Heiland und Mistler, an engineering office for structural dynamics based in Bochum in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, explored the strength of ground vibrations and where exactly they act. all thanks to hours of vibration measurements at the ground surface and at a depth of four meters.

Furthermore, they recorded the shaking in the soil of a nearby tram track in Dübendorf to also account for this future load.

The results demonstrated that the vibrations at the chosen construction site were low enough to meet the stringent specifications.

"This makes sense", says Kevin Olas, who leads the project for and on behalf of EMPA.

"In the middle of the construction site, we are quite far from both sources."

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
In spring 2024, an innovative, vibration- and electromagnetic-proof building will house the laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich

A solution called "mass and stiffness" preferred to the bearing equipped with elastomers

The question now was: how best to build? To ensure that the structure reliably "swallows" existing vibrations, two strategies were discussed.

Experts have discouraged an “elastic” bearing, such as an elastomer foundation, due to the complex construction method and possible shorter life.

Instead, the so-called “mass and stiffness” option was chosen.

“It is built so heavy and rigid”says Kevin Olas, “that the vibrations fail to 'excite' the building”.

“It is ultimately more efficient”, adds the director of the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology.

“The building will be like an oil tanker so massive that not even the storm waves will shake it”, explains structural dynamics expert Dieter Heiland.

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
An element of structural dynamics of the future laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich from 2024: a cantilevered post driven into the ground

Thus 48 piles transfer surface friction to load-bearing soil at minus 18 metres

The result is “a super-rigid reinforced concrete structure that is almost impossible to vibrate”, explains Kevin Olas, an architect by training: in other words, it is an extremely heavy infrastructure.

This is one of the reasons why the 48 vertical elements of a piled slab foundation transfer loads through surface friction into a more load-bearing soil layer at a depth of 18 metres.

The concrete slabs have a thickness of 53 centimeters, moreover with seven centimeters of screed on top.

“From a purely structural point of view, such thick slabs would not have been necessary”Olas explains.

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
In spring 2024, an innovative, vibration- and electromagnetic-proof building will house the laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich

An 80 cm thick slab in the ultra-sensitive equipment area

In the area intended for ultra-sensitive measuring equipment, the slab is even thicker, 80 centimeters to be exact.

“It's the supertanker within our supertanker, so to speak”Olas explains.

“It's almost absurd from a static point of view, but for vibration protection there is no other solution”.

And under the foundations, instead of the classic polystyrene insulating panels, there are sheets of expanded glass: a useful detail to ensure even more rigid behavior in bending.

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
In spring 2024, an innovative, vibration- and electromagnetic-proof building will house the laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich

Roof ventilation centers “decoupled” with a special spring mounting

In addition to trains and cars, other factors can also cause unwanted vibrations.

People, for example: in the worst case, even their steps can cause problems, but the structural dynamics calculations by the Walt Galmarini engineering office in Zurich, which was commissioned to study the matter, show that ceilings are solid and rigid enough not to be overly stressed.

Or the ventilation centre: Since such rooftop systems can transmit vibrations to the ceilings, they have to be "decoupled" with a special spring-loaded assembly.

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
A structural dynamics element of the future laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the canton of Zurich from 2024: the building's typical pile foundation

A compensation wire between the rails to neutralize the magnetic fields of the trams?

The companies in charge of the preliminary construction studies, primarily the German Heiland und Mistler, also recorded the magnetic fields at both sites.

In addition to vibrations, changes in magnetic fields can also affect the operation of sensitive equipment.

On-site measurements have shown that active compensation would be required for a scanning electron microscope, for example by means of so-called Helmholtz coils which generate a homogeneous magnetic field.

The main sources of magnetic field variation are road traffic on the south side and the railway line on the north side of the site.

In the case of the future tram line, experts predict that the variations in the electromagnetic force will be so great that additional protective measures are needed, such as a compensation wire between the rails, which would significantly reduce the magnetic fields caused by the operation of the tram .

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Access roadways with a high percentage of voids to silence all movement

These and many other measures will be hidden from view when the EMPA and EAWAG laboratory building is completed in spring 2024.

Detail-conscious visitors will however recognize that the building has been consistently designed to minimize vibration, already on the carriageways of the access roads.

Their surface will be built in the most fluid and “silent” way possible: for example, using a high percentage of air pockets to prevent even the smallest vibrations caused by vehicles.

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The laboratory building of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf since 2024
In spring 2024, an innovative, vibration- and electromagnetic-proof building will house the laboratories of EMPA and EAWAG in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich