Space for time, and vice versa

Contrasting structural forms share the same environmental awareness in the new Swatch headquarters designed by Shigeru Ban in Biel, Switzerland

Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
DATA SHEET

Owner: Swatch Group
Architecture: Shigeru Ban Architects
Interior design: Shigeru Ban Architects & Vitra
Furnishings and fittings: Bisazza, USM, Vitra
Photo credits: Didier Boy de la Tour, courtesy Shigeru Ban; courtesy Swatch Group

Monumental and dazzling, the new Swatch headquarters designed by Shigeru Ban Architects winds for 240 meters, gripping inside its reticular jaws an independent but perfectly complementary architectural unit for the new Omega factory and the exhibition space Cité du Temps.

Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland

A clearly iconic project, because it playfully unwinds with curves, transparencies, colors and innovative construction technologies. It is also impressive in its numbers. An area of 25,000 square meters on five levels, 400 workstations in the Swatch International and Swatch Switzerland departments, a facade which at its highest point reaches 27 meters, 1997 cubic meters of Swiss wood used to make the dense grid of 4600 beams.

Then there are 9 underground wells, two former fuel tanks converted as water reservoirs, scattered across the entire area, and 1,770 square meters of photovoltaic panels that produce about 212.3 MWh of electricity per year, the equivalent of the average annual consumption of 61 families.

Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland

To define the form of the structure, which gently rises before shifting to the Cité du Temps, and the exact position of the many beams, the designers have utilized 3D printing. The honeycomb wood parts – opaque, transparent and translucent – are assembled with a special plug-in system to allow as much natural light to pass as possible, bringing it into the complex while providing correct thermal insulation. The structural shell is concealed by a complex network of cables.

The entrance hall is completely in glass, with ample proportions, creating a sense of transparency, openness and lightness, amplified by the glass balustrades placed at every level. Also in glass, two theatrical elevators enable staff and visitors to reach the upper floors and the footbridge, on the third floor, connecting the headquarters to the Cité du Temps.

Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
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The interiors are organized with a cascade layout, sharing in a discreet image that stays that way even when the furnishings have vibrant colors. As in the case of the Tip Ton chairs designed by Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby for Vitra, which punctuate the space with red, blue and yellow, around the workstations configured with the white Map Tables, or the Alcove Sofas by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, iconic, large white and red presences.

Besides the offices and exhibition spaces, the project by Shigeru Ban covers various shared areas: a cafe on the ground floor and small lounges on the various levels. In the headquarters the open spaces alternate with alcove cabins that can contain up to six people for work meetings or private phone calls. The installation at the back part of the second floor is definitely unusual: a staircase that leads up to nowhere – the so-called Reading Stairs – where steps and views encourage brainstorming during creative breaks.

Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland
Swatch Headquarter, Biel, Switzerland

The Cité du Temps, slightly raised, seems to float on the pillars below, bring together under one roof the cheerful spirit typical of the Swatch brand, the luxurious character of Omega and the Nicolas G. Hayek Conference Hall, with its elliptical form enhanced by an elaborate mosaic facade. For the making of the hall, Bisazza has supplied 1.5 million tiles, customized in the exclusive hue chosen by Shigeru Ban.