Architect Shigeru Ban capitalises on his Japanese mastery over carpentry and designs a carbon neutral office building, bang in the midst of the media hub in Zurich.
The wrecking ball smashed into the existing building in February 2011. For two months the Stauffacher area in Zurich crawled with bulldozers as wall after wall was felled and tonnes of rubble were carted away.
The initial construction sparked an interest in the city; a large timber frame was coming up, one piece of wood locking into another, almost like a giant baby stacking up his wooden blocks one over the other.
Over the next two years the construction progressed glass panes went up, fixtures and fittings were put in place and after the last few finishing touches, Tamedia Group’s office building opened in July 2013.
The trend for media enterprises to set up shop by this spot along the river Sihl began in 1902, and in the last century this Werdareal site has become the veritable hub of Swiss media.
The main building of the Tamedia Group was located in this area but expansion had led the company to add offices in various other locations over Zurich. The company was keen on bringing the majority of its Zurich media offices under one roof to ensure a standardised work environment.
A new building was needed for which architect Shigeru Ban was engaged. Though, of Japanese origin, architect Shigeru Ban has worked on a variety of projects across the world and is regarded as a trendsetter in contemporary architecture.
The client wanted the new building to have a strong appeal for its employees. Mr. Ban explains, “The client wanted to have a work environment that would make people feel at home, a relaxed space, much like one’s own living room.”
Average costs, optimum exploitation of space and flexibility in the use of spaces were other important considerations. They also wanted the building to radiate an inner warmth as employees often worked late into the night. He adds, “Transparency is a core value of Tamedia and thus they wanted us to create a transparent building to reflect that.”
There were a few constraints within which the design team had to function, the most important being strict Swiss environmental regulations. The first step was to ensure that only easily renewable construction material and some of the lowest carbon dioxide producing components be used in the construction process. Mr. Ban conceptualised a unique edifice in wood and glass, with timber being the preferred choice of material for the main structure.
Traditional Japanese carpentry skills were brought into play to create the wooden framework. This meant that the entire four storey structure is formed by interlocking wooden members without the use of a single metal screw, steel reinforcement or any glue; this served to up the sustainability quotient a great deal. Prefabricated components were milled to the precise millimetre and then assembled on site.
The latest Swiss regulations regarding energy consumption are tough and special care had to be taken through the planning and implementation to ensure low energy transmission levels. The use of low emission coated glass on the exteriors also contributes in maintaining the carbon neutrality of the Tamedia office.
Additionally, a double façade has been designed over lounge spaces, here glass panes may be lifted away mechanically to convert these into open-air terraces. This system acts as a buffer against the varying climate and also provides natural ventilation. The heating and cooling system operates entirely on the geoexchange system or ground source heat pumps (GSHP) and eliminates the use of non-renewable sources of energy.
Besides the stringent environmental regulations, the design team also had to keep in mind that the Tamedia building’s appearance was in harmony with the surrounding building blocks. Mr. Ban says, “We had to have the approval from the cityscape commission in Zurich. I did not want to use a stone facade as a fake traditional building, so we used glass instead of stone and used vertical and horizontal grids on the glass facade just as seen on the existing neighbouring buildings.”
The triumph of the design lies in the fact that it works not only from the ecological viewpoint but also from the aesthetic viewpoint. The sight of the structural elements through the glass façade lends a surreal touch to the edifice. It is also Mr. Ban’s favourite design element, “The timber structure within the glass façade is inspired by a Swiss cottage.” The Louvre style mansard roof, luminous interiors and the lattice-like wood structure combine to create a visual that is pleasing to the eye and the environment in equal parts.
Text By Himali Kothari
Photographs Courtesy Didier Boy de la Tour and Shigeru Ban Architects Europe