Shigeru Ban’s corporate campus in Biel/Bienne for the Swiss watch company Swatch Omega Group is a study in contrast. Expanding on a motif the international architect first developed for the Centre Pompidou-Metz, France, Ban created a massive load-bearing timber diagrid shell that encloses and forms the main building. As with the Metz project, the Swatch Omega Headquarters’ structure-as-building controls all and is covered with a tight-fitting membrane of varying opacity. Some modules of the diagrid are opaque, some translucent or transparent depending on the function and location along the cylindrical building.
According to the architect, “The two brands—Omega and Swatch—clearly distinguish the design concept of [the three] buildings according to the characteristics of each brand … freedom and joyfulness for Swatch; precision, accuracy and high quality for Omega … and the integration of both” for the “Cité du Temps” central facility that literally bridges the two brands.
Each module of the curvilinear structure has its own function, contributing to an ecological and sustainable building. The opaque modules provide sun protection and sound absorption; some can open to extract smoke; some modules are fitted with photovoltaic cells.
Translucent modules (965 of them!) are comprised of two ETFE foils that sandwich a doubly curved translucent polycarbonate plate to improve thermal performance. Transparent modules consist of four panes of glass. Individual parts were assembled in the factory and checked for airtightness before installation on-site.
“From a contextual point of view,” says Ban, “wood was the only choice because Biel/Bienne is the center of cutting-edge wood technology and leads the timber technology of Switzerland.”
This highly complex building was engineered, fabricated and installed by Taiyo Europe GmbH, and the membrane elements are clear ETFE foil from Nowofol GmbH. The project won an Outstanding Achievement award for Taiyo Europe in the Frame-supported Structures category in the 2021 IFAI International Achievement Awards.
Client: Swatch Omega Group, Biel/Bienne, Switzerland
Architect: Shigeru Ban Architects, Tokyo, Japan
Engineering [modular roof, facade frame elements]: Taiyo Europe GmbH and Leicht Structural Engineering
Wood constructions: SJB Kempter Fitze AG, Eschenbach, Switzerland
Fabrication, installation and project management [roof]: Taiyo Europe GmbH