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Valerio Olgiati has famously referred to his brand of architecture as decidedly “non-referential”, or as moving away from any of the ideologies or their versions in architecture. For him, each of his buildings are individualistic vessels that weren’t necessarily derivative of a particular style, but were still referential to societal expression and ideals at large. His latest, the multi-storey office structure for Baloise Insurance Company, builds on that non-referential principle, especially when viewed in respect to its context in the built Swiss landscape. However, the naive mind gravitates towards pointing possible references, simply in an explanatory capacity, and not to diminish the bold architectural statement the structure attempts to make.
Akin to a lot of Swiss architecture, the Baloise Insurance Company office building mirrors a Germanic sense of precision and frugality, finding a distinct material expression in pigmented concrete. The building is also increasingly reminiscent of a brutalist style of building, with béton brut unmistakably lending that identity to the ‘bare’ structure. In essence, the structure embodies a skin and bones character that lends it a certain visual weight. The building, however, finds a refined sense of definition in a rather reductive stance, attempting to offset that visual weight through structural innovation.
What are defined as “house-shaped” columns seem to carry the weight of massive horizontal slabs, lending the office structure the look of an elaborate cabinetry with stone shelves. A rather interesting structural detail, the massive, supposedly unyielding columns keep the slab above afloat through ‘point’ supports at individual contact points at the periphery, making the parts whole, and the structure, unitary. In fact, the structural clarity of the building, especially in an age of fast-tracked cosmetic concealment, is astonishing and self-assuredly refreshing at once.
As a further testament to the 'lightness', the office design and spatial layout harbours an atrium at its core, supported by four massive pillars that also anchor the building’s foundation with them. Contrary to the pointy columns enveloping the structure on every floor, these are much better defined as shear walls, their length reducing as the building gains relative levity on the upper floors. The jaded, moody aesthetic here created by a composition of solidity and voids, and a sly seeping of light would make the atrium a frontrunner for the production of a dystopian sci-fi.
The building is entered through a foyer that is completely concealed from the street through solid walls bearing incisions in the shape of irregular pentagons on their surface, almost as an insignia. The same geometricity is echoed in the form of the columns in the interiors, and in the arrangement of internal walls and spaces. In contrast to this, the offices on the upper floors are extroverted through ample use of glass in the building’s envelope, with the “house-shaped” columns, another manifestation of that motif, occurring in rhythmic repetition. The floor slab extends much beyond the column’s flush line, creating the impression of contiguous balconies overlooking the street.
Interestingly enough, the Baloise office building is also a structure whose beautifully textured drawings reveal more about its machinations than the images. The almost mathematical design of the building is only truly appreciated like you would the cinema of Europe in an age of rapid Hollywood-isation.
Name: Baloise Insurance Company Office Tower
Typology: Learning Center and Offices, Baloise Park, Headquarters of Baloise Insurances
Location: Basel, Switzerland
Client: Basler Leben AG
Architect: Valerio Olgiati
Collaborators: Sebastian Carella (project manager, Olgiati office), Jurij von Aster, Nathan Ghiringhelli
Contractor: PORR Suisse AG
Structural Engineer: Patrick Gartmann, Ferrari Gartmann Ingenieure AG
Volume: 74,969.90 m³
Area: 17,745.31 m²
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