by Zohra KhanSep 20, 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."
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
- AMDL Circle
- Art Installation
- Artificial Light
- Exhibition Design
- Exhibition Space
- Facade Design
- Furniture Design
- Innovative Design
- Interactive Exhibition
- Italian Architect
- Italian Designer
- Lighting Design
- Media Artist
- Michele De Lucchi
- Natural Light
- pavilion design
- Product Design
- Public Space
- solar panel