AMDL Circle forges a home for science in a sculptural lattice with the Novartis Pavillon

After winning the international competition for the design of the Novartis Pavillon, AMDL Circle's circular structure takes shape as a self-powered art installation in Basel.

by Sunena V MajuPublished on : Aug 22, 2022

"Future-orientated, innovative, open and optimistic" is how Italian architect Michele De Lucchi's AMDL Circle introduces its design for the Novartis Pavillon in Basel, Switzerland. Presenting itself as an architectural symbol, the sculptural form of the new pavilion with its technologically advanced lattice facade explores the potential of architecture to communicate the values of science. Creating an interface between the clients and visitors, the pavilion is anchored outside the perimeter of the Novartis campus, in a park designed by Gunther Vogt. While creating a place where the city connects to the pharmaceutical company, inside a ring-like configurable plan, the architects introduce flexible spaces for discussion and soaring high volumes for interactive exhibitions. Amid the many architectural marvels on the campus by renowned architects, the Novartis Pavillon aims to be "educational, expository, receptive, dynamic, and encourage the coming together of people."

  • The Novartis Pavillon aims to be an area where the city of Basel meets the company and a new model for the exploration of scientific research | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The Novartis Pavillon aims to be an area where the city of Basel meets the company and a new model for the exploration of scientific research Image: © iart
  • In a circular plan that houses an education and information centre, the pavilion presents the company in an innovatory and original manner | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    In a circular plan that houses an education and information centre, the pavilion presents the company in an innovatory and original manner Image: © Laurits Jensen

Structured on two-level with a mezzanine, the circular plan of the pavilion shapes into a public building with a welcoming form and parametric facade. While being a state-of-the-art information centre, the ground floor creates informal and flexible areas that adapt to the evolving necessities of the space. Adding to a wide range of technologies incorporated in the space, acoustic curtains are used to divide the spaces in order to conduct workshops, hackathons, and project presentations. Introducing visitors to a knowledge bubble, the mezzanine acts as an exhibition space hosting Wonders of Medicine curated by Atelier Brückner. Within the mezzanine is a multimedia theatre with stair seating linking the ground floor to the upper floor. Soaring upwards with a double-pitched roof, the upper floor is a circular fluidic gallery without any walls or dividing galleries. The artificial light radiating downwards a large ogive-like form illuminates the gallery and creates "an intimate almost sacred atmosphere, as in an ancient cathedral". Providing a glimpse into the assemblage of the pavilion, the structure of this level realised using pre-assembled segments, made of advanced laminated wood processing techniques, is left visible. Furthermore, recalling the presence of the park, textiles in interior spaces reflect the natural colours of the surrounding environment. In the process of communicating the company’s commitment to the dissemination of scientific knowledge, the architects bestow the external facade with a symbolic role. Integrating a new generation of double-sided photovoltaic panels and a grid of LED lights, the Zero Energy Media facade itself is a sustainable energy system that is technologically equipped to communicate images along with producing a significant amount of energy for the functioning of the building.

  • The external façade plays a symbolic role in the architecture designed for Novartis | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The external façade plays a symbolic role in the architecture designed for Novartis Image: © Laurits Jensen
  • Covering the upper part of the pavilion is a multimedia membrane that is technologically equipped to communicate images | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    Covering the upper part of the pavilion is a multimedia membrane that is technologically equipped to communicate images Image: © Laurits Jensen
  • The Novartis Pavillon: Drawing by Nicholas Bewick of the facade design | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The Novartis Pavillon: Drawing by Nicholas Bewick of the facade design Image: Courtesy of AMDL Circle

Adding to the innovative pavilion design, an intriguing play of light elevates the holistic experience of space. Creating contrasting characteristics for both floors, the 360-degree, all round glass windows shower the ground floor in complete natural light and a carefully curated array of artificial light adores the upper floor. In an extension to the detailed curation of user experience in every aspect of design, AMDL CIRCLE customised furnishing for the Novartis Pavillon which was realised by Produzione Privata, the company by Michele De Lucchi that develops experimental design objects and promotes craftsmanship. Included in the collection of furniture in the space are the Benedetto tables, the Bacchetta sofas, and the Possum stools. Accentuating on the same, the architects share, "Particular attention was paid to the choice of wood: oak being a warm, durable and breathable material. Furnishings with this wood were chosen, aiming to convey an idea of comfort that is domestic rather than institutional.”

  • Integrating a new generation of double-sided photovoltaic panels and a grid of LED lights, the facade becomes a sustainable energy system | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    Integrating a new generation of double-sided photovoltaic panels and a grid of LED lights, the facade becomes a sustainable energy system Image: © Laurits Jensen
  • The Novartis Pavillon: Drawing by Nicholas Bewick of the multimedia membrane | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The Novartis Pavillon: Drawing by Nicholas Bewick of the multimedia membrane Image: Courtesy of AMDL Circle

In conversation with STIR, the Project Architect, Nicholas Bewick of AMDL Circle, talks about the project, his experience of working on it and the connection between architecture and science.

Sunena V Maju: Do you think that the new Novartis Pavillon extends a dialogue towards the collection of remarkable buildings already on the campus, some of them designed by renowned architects such as David Chipperfield, Frank Gehry, and Tadao Ando?

Nicholas Bewick: The Pavillon is the 18th building commissioned by Novartis as part of its 'Architectural Collection'. They say it is the last but it is also the beginning of a new era for the campus, as it becomes more accessible for other life science companies. It is also conceived to be a different type of building, a 'public' interface and place of encounters that want to communicate the importance of medicine and Novartis's endeavours to find new ways of treating global illnesses.

Sunena: How do you think the architecture of the pavilion becomes an effective tool in storytelling for science?

Nicholas: We have designed the Pavillon to work on different levels, firstly it was designed to house The Miracles of Medicine exhibit, which had already been developed as an extensive narrative of the history, processes and future directions of Life Science. The upper display area uses a sophisticated audio and touch screen system in which the visitors have an interactive relationship with the company and can even make suggestions to support its research. Secondly, the ground floor is a meeting place where the public, the companies staff and scientists, students etc can have the chance to use the space for informal discussions, events, or just take a coffee together while they admire the surrounding nature and adjacent Rhine river. And thirdly, the expressive media facade is a demonstration of Novartis's recognition of the cultural connection between creativity and pharmaceutical development in which artists and scientists have collaborated together.

  • The Future of Healthcare series in the exhibition invites visitors to join virtual discussions with experts on the social and ethical implications of trends shaping the future of healthcare | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The Future of Healthcare series in the exhibition invites visitors to join virtual discussions with experts on the social and ethical implications of trends shaping the future of healthcare Image: © ATELIER-BRÜCKNER, Michael-Reiner
  • In the exhibition, From Lab to Patient series shows the processes involved in medicine development and production  | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    In the exhibition, From Lab to Patient series shows the processes involved in medicine development and production Image: © ATELIER-BRÜCKNER, Michael-Reiner
  • Interactive walls and a refined range of projection techniques allow infinite flexibility in layout design | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    Interactive walls and a refined range of projection techniques allow infinite flexibility in layout design Image: © ATELIER-BRÜCKNER, Michael-Reiner

Sunena: You state the pavilion materialises akin to a large art installation. What was the biggest challenge in bridging art and science, and artists and scientists, for the pavilion's design?

Nicholas: The 'Zero Energy Media Facade' is something that arrived later on in the design process, the shape and form of the Pavillon had already been defined. The challenge was initially to find the right combination of technology using organic photovoltaic film and LED lights that had the right scale of components and graphic definition, and then finding artists who had the understanding of the potential of its visual possibilities. In fact, Novartis organised an international competition to select the first three creative media artists who went on to work directly with the company's scientists. We are always amazed at how much variation of imagery is possible that creates a totally different expression of scientific exploration.

  • The inclined profile of the roof becomes an integral part of the itinerary, like a large canvas | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The inclined profile of the roof becomes an integral part of the itinerary, like a large canvas Image: © iart
  • The facade system is self-powered and provides a huge, continuous and dynamic screen that is visible from every direction | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The facade system is self-powered and provides a huge, continuous and dynamic screen that is visible from every direction Image: © Laurits Jensen
  • AMDL Circle customised furnishing for the Novartis Pavillon that was realised by Produzione Privata, the company by Michele De Lucchi which develops experimental design objects and promotes craftsmanship | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    AMDL Circle customised furnishing for the Novartis Pavillon that was realised by Produzione Privata, the company by Michele De Lucchi which develops experimental design objects and promotes craftsmanship Image: © Novartis

Sunena: Apart from being the project architect, you are also credited as the Architecture Art Director. What did that role entail, and where did these two roles meet for you, if at all?

Nicholas: The project started with a competition in September 2017 and the Pavillon opened in April 2022. So it has been quite a long process, however, I have to say that it has been a very rewarding and thorough process typical of a large organisation that seeks an important result and contribution to the whole organisation and the city of Basel. My role has always been to ensure the design quality of the whole project, and as is typical of AMDL Circle to work on all aspects that embrace the architecture, the interior, the purpose-designed furniture etc. Today much of my activity is to instigate the direction of our projects by selecting references, design themes, technologies, and materials that can inspire our design teams and the direction of our collective creativity.

  • The Novartis Pavillon: Initial sketches by Nicholas Bewick | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The Novartis Pavillon: Initial sketches by Nicholas Bewick Image: Courtesy of AMDL Circle
  • The Novartis Pavillon: Aerial sketch of the pavilion by Nicholas Bewick | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The Novartis Pavillon: Aerial sketch of the pavilion by Nicholas Bewick Image: Courtesy of AMDL Circle
  • The Novartis Pavillon: Sectional sketch of the pavilion by Nicholas Bewick | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The Novartis Pavillon: Sectional sketch of the pavilion by Nicholas Bewick Image: Courtesy of AMDL Circle
  • The Novartis Pavillon: Conceptual sketches of the pavilion by Nicholas Bewick | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The Novartis Pavillon: Conceptual sketches of the pavilion by Nicholas Bewick Image: Courtesy of AMDL Circle

While marking technological intervention to represent the relation between science and architecture, the Novartis Pavillon goes beyond being a showcase for the company to a self-powered art installation. However, the initial idea of creating a circular plan stems from the architects' consideration of it as "a powerful field of psychophysical energy, a sort of sacred area where all physical and spiritual forces are concentrated". The architects also add, “Because the architecture itself must communicate energy, must inspire and promote connections between different voices and cultures”. While trying to find connections between multiple fields of knowledge, can architecture as a field be a balanced ground for science, technology, and sacred beliefs to converse?

  • From the top large ogive-like structure, artificial light radiates downwards, gently illuminating the gallery | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    From the top large ogive-like structure, artificial light radiates downwards, gently illuminating the gallery Image: © Laurits Jensen
  • The location of the pavilion guarantees that the building does not interrupt the harmony of the park’s pathways | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The location of the pavilion guarantees that the building does not interrupt the harmony of the park’s pathways Image: © iart
  • The pavilion opens a new platform where the city of Basel and the company connects to ensure the wellness of society | Novartis Pavillon | AMDL Circle | STIRworld
    The pavilion opens a new platform where the city of Basel and the company connects to ensure the wellness of society Image: © iart

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