The Unilever Foods Innovation Centre is completely energy-neutral. The roof is a sea of 1,550 solar panels, with glass panels embedded with solar cells designed to both generate energy and provide a heat shield. The building’s compact design ensures that energy loss is kept to a minimum. Furthermore, the facility is equipped with various devices, such as presence detectors, to ensure that it functions as energy-efficiently as possible. Glass surfaces, blank façades, floors and the roof are highly insulated to minimize energy consumption while facilitating thermal comfort. The building further supports the health and well-being of its users through the carefully calibrated admission of natural light, the generous views of outdoor greenery, and the indoor air quality, acoustics and ergonomics.
New hub for knowledge sharing
The innovation centre is an important new hub for knowledge sharing between Unilever and other parties on campus, such as researchers and students at Wageningen University & Research. Cross-fertilisation between these parties is set to be further stimulated by the fact that a major part of the facility is open to the general public. All of which helps to boost the city of Wageningen's ambition to become the global centre of knowledge for the (agri)food industry and the life sciences.
A sustainable, innovative and healthy building through collaboration
The design and development process involved close collaboration with office staff, laboratory personnel and kitchen staff from Unilever’s former R&D facilities in the Netherlands, Poland and Germany, who are now based at Hive. The centre, a highly complex facility that accommodates a variety of functions and cultures, had to be designed one step at a time. This co-creative effort has resulted in an airy, open-plan building that promotes interaction and breathes sustainability, innovation and knowledge sharing. A variety of measures were incorporated in the design that, along with the well-thought-out layout, spur people to move about the building and interact with their
fellow occupants, thereby allowing Unilever to contribute to the health and well-being of its staff and visitors and to the vitality of the centre.
Layout designed to support end user’s health and well-being
Visitors to most commercial buildings are forced to negotiate some form of security barrier the minute they step through the door. Unilever envisaged the complete opposite: a building that would
be “welcoming by default”. Here, you step into a vast, light-filled, six-metre-high lobby that is not only liberating in its openness but also makes evident the facility’s dedication to food. Thus, the traditional fixtures and fittings of a typical reception have made way for a spacious food bar, where
visitors, students, foodies, etc. can enjoy a nice cup of tea or a nutritious spot of lunch while following the activity in the pilot plant, the facility’s mini-factory.
Opposite the food bar is a large demonstration kitchen, where culinary sessions and tastings are to be hosted every day. The facility’s open-plan design extends to this kitchen, allowing these sessions and tastings to take place in full view of the visiting public. A bit further down is an open auditorium, which functions as a town hall for food innovators to share their knowledge through lectures and symposiums.
The auditorium connects the ground floor with the publicly accessible Food Market, meeting rooms and first floor restaurant. Adjacent to the Food Market is a concession zone, where Unilever’s partners can set up shop and become an active part of the Foods ecosystem. This zone provides Unilever an in-house catalyst for cross-fertilisation of ideas between itself and its partners at Wageningen University.
The Foods Experience Kitchens are also located on the ground floor. These four “innovation kitchens” and the large demonstration kitchen form the creative showcase for Unilever's chefs, who will use the kitchens every day not only as test kitchens, but also for culinary sessions with external parties, cookery classes and special receptions.
A light-filled atrium with a skylight and a wide wooden staircase links the ground floor with Unilever's offices and laboratories. An underground car park immediately beneath the building and covering an area the size of its footprint provides staff parking for both Unilever and Wageningen University employees. Meanwhile, the gardens, by Atelier LOOSvanVLIET, extend the centre’s design and sustainability efforts outdoors.
Sustainable systems, technologies and innovations
All systems, technologies and innovations employed or incorporated in the Unilever Foods Innovation Centre have been adapted to the facility, its various functions and the organisation’s specific needs. A combination of proven technologies and innovative customised solutions ensure a comfortable, healthy and energy-efficient indoor climate. For example, the building is equipped with air ionizers to improve air quality by minimizing the spread of bacteria, viruses and fungi in an energy-efficient manner.
An interior completely defined by the circular economy
The closure of three Unilever R&D sites in the Netherlands, Germany and Poland presented the design team with the challenge of moving as much furniture, fixtures and fittings as possible from the existing sites to the new centre. This circular economy-based idea became the starting point for all further decisions regarding material selection and the details of the interior design. A flexible design concept was conceived to make a virtue of the colourful variety of the existing furniture, including original upholstery and old office desks, flaws and all.
Photo credit: Ossip van Duivenbode
To read more about the Foods Innovation Centre, please click here