Photo © Lukas Roth

Square 3

Maki and Associates

Novartis Campus, Basel, Switzerland

By Linda C. Lentz

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A study in urban planning, the Novartis campus manifests a logic and order that facilitates its day-to-day operations. Yet the grounds are neither sterile nor overtly homogeneous. Entering onto Fabrikstrasse, the main boulevard, one is immediately struck by the numerous environments for employees — landscaped piazzette, informal indoor and outdoor seating and dining areas, day care centers, even a supermarket, pharmacy, and health club — all integrated in and around the new and renovated buildings. Art is everywhere. Moreover, while the various architects are given similar briefs and physical parameters, their solutions are, of course, unique.

Two blocks east of Fabrikstrasse, towards the Rhine — where Novartis is building a new public promenade — Fumihiko Maki's pristine Square 3 office building meets the master plan's standard dimensions for its type: approximately 59 feet wide, 169 feet long, and 72 feet high. This configuration allows abundant sunlight to penetrate its five stories — a feature the architect manipulates with a deft sleight of hand.

Luminous by day and night, Square 3, in many ways, embodies the essence of light in both its fabric and functionality. Maki and Licht Kunst Licht (LKL) principal Andreas Schulz collaborated to integrate the lighting strategies into the building's fundamental design.

Daylight figures prominently in the scheme. The architects created a glazed facade composed of three types of glass — clear-view, ceramic-frit, and an opaque white aluminum-backed panel — arranged for privacy and light control. In the clear and fritted translucent areas, the sophisticated system has sensor-controlled motorized shades sandwiched between an insulating triple-glazed layer and a fourth layer of low-iron, low-E glass. Inside the 66,198-square-foot flat-slab structure, they inserted a versatile ceiling system comprising perforated aluminum panels that feature a central diagonal plane, bringing air in from radiant heating and cooling pipes above it, and acoustic peripheral sections that slope 2 feet up to the windows to provide maximum daylight during working hours.

“It is such a transparent building,” says LKL project manager Martina Weiss. “We decided to light it from within, so [in the evening] it is like a glowing box from the inside. There is no exterior lighting.”

This glow emits from several sources, which were determined by a number of programmatic strategies. According to Maki and Associates project manager Gary Kamemoto, the notion of a multispace open office encouraging mobility, flexibility, and interaction among various research and business groups is a key component of Novartis chairman Daniel Vasella's vision.

To create a sense of continuity in the confined footprint, Maki applied a series of S-curves in plan to vertically connect the five levels above grade, linking them with communal double-height spaces and open stairs at the ends of alternating floor plates. Then the architects established two cores at opposite diagonals to keep the floors open.

“Within this framework,” says Kamemoto, “it was crucial to keep the geometry of the ceiling as pure and uninterrupted as possible.” Since the ambient light in most offices comes from the ceiling, this strategy would require an atypical approach.

Together, the Maki team and LKL devised purpose-built workstations and sideboards with integrated light fixtures. These emit multidirectional ambient light with linear fluorescents that illuminate the desk and ceiling, and direct LED task lighting. Likewise, glass-enclosed “private rooms” for small meetings and phone calls — another Vasella concept — are topped with integral luminaires that direct light up and down through taut stretch ceilings. Nearby, handsome floor fixtures add a hospitable touch, while sculptural stainless steel pendants — also multidirectional — hover above conference tables, and recessed linear fixtures wash the adjacent glazing. On the ground floor, slender fixtures fit snugly into a slatted wood-veneer ceiling negotiating the luminance needs of the lobby and glazed meeting and office areas.

The overall effect is subtle, elegant and illuminating — never glaring. A lustrous jewel in the midst of ongoing construction, Square 3 will eventually open onto a large parklike green. When it does, the thoughtful collaborative tactics of Maki and LKL will come to full fruition.

Owner: Novartis Pharma AG

Completion Date: June 2009

Gross square footage: 66,198 square feet

Total construction cost: Withheld at Owner’s Request

Fumihiko Maki & Maki and Associates
13-4 Hachiyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan 150-0035
Tel. ++81. 3. 3780-3880
Fax. ++81. 3. 3780-3881

August 2011
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