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Foto: Jannes Linders

Lab42: the building to solve the space shortage at Science Park (which it didn't do)

Sija van den Beukel,
12 september 2022 - 09:12

The brand new Lab42 building in the Science Park was inaugurated in September by students and staff of information sciences and artificial intelligence (KI). The last brick had not yet been laid and the building was already proving too small. Where did this tremendous growth of KI come from?

The main 904 building in Science Park has been bursting at the seams for years. The KI program has experienced tremendous growth in the past decade. The bachelor's program grew from 186 students in 2013 to 421 students in 2021: more than doubling the student body. In the master's program, the growth was even greater: in eight years, the number of students grew from 95 in 2013 to 362 in 2021. The peak was at 400 master's students in 2018.

  • Address: Science Park 900
  • Built in 2022 by Visser & Smit Bouw based on a design by the architects at Benthem Crouwel
  • The building houses students, researchers from the Institute of Computer Science (IVI), the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC) and the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI). Also working there are spinoffs, start-ups and scale-ups in the information sciences and artificial intelligence.

The Institute of Computer Science (IvI) also nearly doubled in FTEs over the past decade. While it employed 146 FTEs in 2013, by 2021 the number was 269.


Yet the popularity of the course of study and the field was not the first step toward building Lab42. Cees Snoek, professor of KI and former director of the master's program, explains: "There were plans for the piece of land for the construction of the SRON space center. SRON eventually chose Leiden. Then there was a plan to put up a building, without occupants." The growth of KI and the willingness of the municipality to subsidize resulted in the new building: Lab42.


Group spirit

Lab42 houses students, researchers and companies of information sciences and artificial intelligence. In the building, all floors look out onto a large courtyard. The wall reaching to the sixth floor is covered with plants to underline the green image of the building. The building is circularly designed, energy neutral and can be disassembled. The roof is equipped with solar panels and captures rainwater that is used to flush the toilets.

Foto: Jan Linders
Inside Lab42

There are two lecture halls on the second floor of the building, one for 240 students and one for 150. At the moment this is sufficient for the students of the KI course who also take classes at other UvA locations. Says Snoek: "Meanwhile the teaching staff has grown along with the number of students. This has put the study program in calmer waters. It is now more under control and we are no longer in panic mode."

Foto: Dirk Gillissen
Cees Snoek

Snoek studied at a time when the KI program was still small and everyone knew each other. "When I was a student, the program had 30 to 50 students per year; now there are 600 applications per year," he says.


With the enormous growth the course of study has also become more anonymous. Snoek says: "The new building offers an opportunity to come into more contact with the students and increase group spirit. We may have lost that a little when scaling up. This building offers an opportunity for that. I hope we can make it happen."


Good and affordable

Already since 2013, the number of students for the bachelor's and master's KI has been growing steadily. The master reached a growth peak of 300 applications in 2018. At the time, the program was calculated on 100 students.

"The influx of Indian students was huge"

Snoek does have an inkling of the cause. "Earlier that year, an article appeared in an Indian newspaper that was widely read among students in India. It portrayed the KI study program in Amsterdam as very good and affordable. The ensuing influx of Indian students was huge."


KI did not have a student freeze at that time. The huge influx of students caused panic at the organization and they had to reorganize the entire program. Snoek comments: "In the end, luckily only 196 students showed up in 2018. From that year on, we introduced the student cap for the master's program. That year we set it at 140 and added 20 each year. Now it stands at 200 students. We also made the admission criteria much stricter."


Too small

If the number of students continues to grow steadily, Lab42 will also become too small. The same applies to researchers. Industry is very willing to finance scientific research. Snoek says: "Many companies want to start labs with us, such as Elsevier, Ahold, TomTom, and so on. The companies pay the Aio's who come to work in our building." If that growth continues as fast as previous years, Lab42 won't be able to keep up.


Moving into the business premises, which are currently largely empty, is not an option. Renting them out to companies is part of the concept and a condition for Lab42's financing.


How the growth of KI will continue is, since June 1, no longer up to Cees Snoek but to Professor of Computer Science Evangelos Kanoulas. Kanoulas comments: "For growth in the number of students, the number of staff is still the limiting factor. The problem is the staff and the number of university lecturers, senior lecturers and professors. The students can go to lecture halls all over the UvA campus. Lab42 gives us more options."