The Swatch and Omega Campus by the 36th Pritzker Prize winner, Shigeru Ban, is an identity of the watch brands and the town. The exemplary architect is known for his innovative and sustainable application of materials – Paper tube structures, timber, and bamboo structures. The campus comprises three designs by Shigeru Ban that illustrate the spirit of the brands by using timber.
The Swatch and Omega Campus
Located in the town of Biel/Bienne in north-western Switzerland, the Swatch and Omega campus houses the Swatch headquarters, the new Omega Manufacture, and the Cité du Temps. The town is known as a tradition-imbued metropolis of watchmaking. Timber was adopted as the structural material as a representation of Swiss timber technology. It was also due to the flexibility and precision offered by timber, and above all, it being a sustainable material.
“The entire volume of timber used in this project is 4,600m³ which corresponds to 10 hours of growth of entire trees in Switzerland,” says Shigeru Ban Architects. It resulted in a pragmatic concept of a serpentine timber structure that blends with its urban environment. The design revolved around the characterization of each brand and harmonizing them into the Cité du Temps.
The Swatch Headquarters
The Swatch group is known for its revolutionary designs that the architect conveys through his exemplary use of timber. The scintillating façade sweeps across the 5-floored structure and reaches out to merge with the Cité du Temps. The superstructure is made with approximately 4,600 beams to form a timber grid shell that stretches over an area of 11,000 m2. The firm claims this to be one of the enormous wooden structures in Europe.
The unconventional design was conceptualized with modern 3D technology, which helped define the shape and position of beams down to a precision of 0.1 millimeters. The architect showcases this principle of detailed design that portrays the design methodology of the Swatch group.
A plug-in principle helped perfectly fit the beams together. The resulting façade is a giant shimmering structure due to the 2,800 honeycomb elements installed into the timber grid shell. These elements were made from about 50 individually tailored pieces and discerned as three basic types: the opaque, the translucent, and the transparent. Each of them is assiduously positioned and serves a distinct function.
The majority of the timber grid shell has opaque elements that are weather-resistant and provide solar protection. Some are fixed and equipped with photo-voltaic cells, while others are openable for smoke extraction. The translucent components are air-inflated and contain a polycarbonate sheet in the middle. The sheet acts as thermal insulation for the office. Each of the transparent elements comprises four glass panes, between which white roller blinds are embedded. It also acts as thermal insulation while preventing the formation of condensation.
Swiss crosses are used on the ceiling to improve the acoustics of the office. The crosses are perforated and help in the absorption of sound. The exposed timber superstructure clubbed with the honeycomb elements creates a sense of dynamism from within. The entrance has zig-zag glazing that invites the user into the building and creates a sense of openness.
The shape of the glazing also acts as a counter to the wind loads and keeps the building adequately insulated. Two glass elevators take the users to the third floor, where a pedestrian bridge over the street connects to the Cité du Temps. The design proudly serves as an identity of the Swatch group as well as the town.
Cité du Temps
It is an exhibition hall that houses Planet Swatch and Omega Museum, the galleries across two floors offering spectacular views of the town and Swatch headquarters. The cuboidal structure sits on a colonnade of 14 arcades that merges with the lower level. Wrapped in glass walls and made up of exposed wooden frames, the exhibition space carries the identities of Swatch and Omega.
The galleries are bedecked with glass balustrades that grant a view of the lower levels. The interior of the elliptical conference hall on the uppermost floor showcases the diversity of timber through its uses and textures. And the exterior protrudes from the building emblazoning its mosaic facade that consists of astounding 1.5 million tiles!
The Omega production building is an independent structure on the campus. The architect embodies the brand in the precision and accuracy of the clean angles in the building. Further, the glass walls of the factory create a sense of openness and transparency. The exposed timber beams and columns create a contrast in the stark white interiors. Five floors of space include an efficiently planned indoor climate and energy system.
The factory has a spiral metal stairway flanked by two inverted cones on its rear facade. The cones are a depiction of the cutting-edge machinery used within. It is a space that brings technical innovation and human expertise together for a fully modernized manufacturing process, says Omega.
The Japanese architect is well known for his works in the field of environment-conscious structures. And for the Swatch and Omega campus, various strategies are employed in response to the climate. The timber structures are primarily of Swiss spruce and are renewable. The radiative heating and cooling, ventilation, and primary lighting of all three buildings function autonomously.
The concept is based on solar and water resourcing by photovoltaics and underground wells. It also reduces the CO2 levels as a thermal balance is maintained. The eco-centric strategies utilize technology and cut down the impact of the building on the planet.
The architect has successfully expressed the identities of the two brands. And, has further intertwined them in the Cite du temps. The clever use of glazing and glass facades draws a person inside and provides openness. The timber grid shell promotes a feeling of continuity as it arches across the office. The exposed timber creates a sense of warmth which is often associated with happiness. Hierarchy in the floor plates also offers visual communication across various parts of the building.
The noise levels, especially in the three-floor atrium are tackled with perforated Swiss crosses. Additionally, the architect has devised strategies that reduce the building’s impact on the environment. It is an excellent example of how cutting-edge technology can harmonize with natural materials to create an unconventional sustainable design.
shigurebanarchitects.com | Available at: http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works/2019_SO51/index.html
swatchgroup.com | Available at: https://www.swatchgroup.com/en/services/archive/2019/swatch-inaugurates-its-headquarters-biel
citedutemps.com | Available at: https://www.citedutemps.com/architecture/
omegawatches.com | Available at: https://www.omegawatches.com/stories/omegas-newest-factory-is-opened