[THIS WEEK] A new volume gives a rare glimpse inside the Novartis campus, writes James Pallister
Like a travelling menagerie, there’s something sadly comical about the architectural zoo, those collections of signature buildings by archi-celebs accumulated by a wealthy client, arranged within a piece of parkland or city. There are many examples of these, from the residential wonderlands of pre-crash ultra-resorts to the arts complexes of Dallas and Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi and, lest we forget, the Vitra campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany, perhaps the ne plus ultra of the genre. A performing seal here, a dancing bear there; a Herzog & de Meuron here, a Jean Nouvel there.
The Basel base of Swiss pharmaceutical group Novartis is one of the more sober of these concoctions. Last year Novartis recorded a net profit of $9.97 billion and put nearly $9.1 billion aside for research and development. Appropriately, it articulated a shift from industrial producer to hi-tech information business in its HQ, drafting in the ETH’s chair of urban development history, Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani to masterplan the complex of offices and labs.
For most architecture scholars, security measures mean getting into the top-secret campus is an impossible ask. Accordingly, Christoph Merian publishers have released a series of slim monographs that take you inside each building. Past titles cover buildings by Roger Diener (for an in-depth look at his work see also the recent Diener & Diener book from Phaidon); Peter Märkli; Frank Gehry and Rafael Moneo. Out now is Fabrikstrasse 12, the address of David Chipperfield’s five-storey laboratory, a measured edifice enlivened by a subtly jaunty facade. At Novartis, Lampugnani’s firm grip has kept the designers in check, with one exception. Paolo Fumagalli writes: ‘The importance and rigour of the [Lampugnani] plan are so relentless that each architect, albeit with their own chosen design and material, has created an architecture of discipline and reflection, always pondered and controlled. Except, of course, in the case of Gehry.’