Design New Public Spaces for the Large Hadron Collider

The city of Geneva has launched an international competition to design an “emblematic reception area” for CERN, the prestigious international particle physics research organization home to the large hadron collider (LHC). Geneva seeks landscape architecture and urban design firms that specialize in developing urban public places that can accomodate many types of visitors. The CERN facility receives 100,000 visitors annually. An additional 10,000 physicists and technicians go to work there each day.

The new gateway and public spaces will just be the first visible component of the future CERN campus master plan. The public area, estimated to be one hectare, will need to be completed by 2014 while the master plan will need to be in place by 2030. The goal is to provide scientists a “friendly and attractive working environment on a par with world-class fundamental research.” The Geneva city government also says that the new reception area will be an integral part of a broader plan for the development of the France – Switzerland border region and will be the “hub of the seven development poles of the future ‘Circle of Innovation.'”

According to CERN, the LHC is a gigantic scientific instrument about 100 meters underground. The entry is near Geneva but the entire LHC’s 27-kilometer circular tunnel crosses the subterranean border between Switzerland and France. Here’s a description of what LHC does: “It’s a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. Two beams of subatomic particles called ‘hadrons’ – either protons or lead ions – will travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap. Physicists will use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy.”

After a somewhat rocky start, the facility is also now functioning well. Beginning in March 2010, CERN physicists successfully smashed two proton particle beams travelling at 99 percent the speed of light at record high energy levels (3.5 TeV [trillion electron volts] of energy).

The New York Times says the goals of the scientists include “finding the identity of the dark matter that shapes the visible cosmos and the strange particle known as the Higgs boson, which is thought to imbue other particles with mass.”

The project budget will be CHF 5 million (€ 3.8 million or USD 5.4 million). Firms from all countries are invited to submit letters of interest after May 16, 2011. Competition winners will be announced in December. A guided site tour is scheduled for June 27, 2011. Please sign up with

Learn more about the design competition. Also, check out this pop-up book on the LHC.

Image credit: (1) CERN / Brian Walker, (2) CERN public gateway map / CERN, (3) LHC / CERN

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