Barcode Architects
Bureau for Architecture
and Contemporary Design




The Earth Simulation Laboratory (ESL), designed by team ABT & Barcode Architects, is a large-scale transformation of the Robert J. van der Graaff laboratory on the campus of University Utrecht. The new ESL brings the different research groups of the faculty of Geosciences together in one location.


Utrecht, the Netherlands


Utrecht University


2014 – 2019








ABT (sustainability, MEP/services, structure), Friso Bouwgroep (structure)

Hans Wilschut, Christian van der Kooy

Black arrow to the bottom Black arrow to the top

Dirk Peters, Caro van de Venne, Hendrik Bloem, Albert Dijk, Robbert Peters, Ilaria Ronchi, Jakub Pakos

The Laboratory was originally built for the University’s particle accelerator, but has lost this function years ago. However, the original construction with walls of over one meter thick and heavy concrete columns refer to the building’s past and have been retained for the transformation. All installations, floors, walls, ceilings and façade have been renewed. The 7.000m² building includes spaces for unique experimental physics research, such as the wave-current flume tank and the High Pressure and Temperature Lab (HPT). Furthermore, the building houses different laboratories, over one hundred high-quality workspaces, meeting and presentation spaces, an archive for research samples and special relics, and different construction spaces for research preparation and support.

The character of the new ESL is defined by the unique façade. The facade powerfully showcases the identity of the faculty of Geosciences to the outside world. The horizontal bands allude to the original Robert J. van de Graaff laboratory and align with the surrounding buildings on this side of the campus. These bands are created using unique concrete panels with an abstract image of the Dutch delta landscape. The meandering streams of the delta are chiseled out of the concrete and laid in with polished RVS-strips. The everchanging daylight reflected off the panels provide the illusion of flowing water. The façade is a symbol for the faculty of Geosciences and forms a calling card for the groundbreaking research taking place in the building.

The identity of the façade is continued throughout the interior of the building. In the heart of ESL, where the stairwells and elevators converge, a floor of matt black concreteplex has been applied with a glossy foil on top of it with the same image as the facade. This provides uses with a clear orientation point in the building and connects to the exterior of the building. The same motif is also applied on the transparent glass walls of the offices – by covering the walls with foil they still have optimum daylight access, but with the privacy of a closed office space. Enlarged images of the research taking place in ESL have been placed in the various group workspaces and meeting rooms. This not only gives an identity to the space, but also shows what kind of research takes place in the building and stimulates cross-polination between the various research groups. These spaces also provide the user with a clear orientation point in the building.