Building 1 is the tallest and most distinctive building on the Roche site in Basel, marking a progression from the development plan that has gradually emerged out of the original Hoffmann-La Roche AG industrial complex. The new building is situated in the southern sector of the Roche grounds, alongside Building 52, previously the highest structure. The continued development of the Roche grounds follows the 2006 plan drawn up by Roche to introduce structural clarity by locating research and development in the northern sector and the global corporate headquarters in the southern sector. Building 1 is the embodiment of that vision of clarity on Grenzacherstrasse. The site is currently flanked to the east and the south by production and research buildings which can be replaced in the course of site development by new office buildings in keeping with the plans.
In designing the 178m tower, the main focus was on developing a high-rise typology that visualizes and fosters the internal organization and communication within the various departments. The tower houses approximately 2000 workplaces relating to various departments previously scattered throughout the city. These have been brought together in one place in a process of so-called “office re-entry”. This allows the smooth flow of communication between and within the various departments in a way that was not possible before. Office re-entry involves synergies enabled not only by the convergence of staff from different fields but also by the overall sense of corporate identity which is enhanced by the integration of staff on the site.
The architecture of Building 1 expresses and actively encourages this new potential for communication. It is flexible and provides attractive workplaces and infrastructural facilities for the staff. The challenge lay in creating an urban environment rather than a mono-functional office building in which each separate floor is accessed only via one central core.
The building is a 41-story, 178m tall high-rise, tapering towards the top. The local building plan defined the distinctive wedge-shaped form, slanting down towards the west and almost vertical to the east. The zoning envelope is the base for a clear and regularly stepped form with setbacks in a two terrace interval to the west and, rising nearly vertically, with subtle and even steps over three floors to the east.
The building is vertically structured by superimposed floor slabs of varying sizes, which are sculpturally expressed on the exterior by horizontal white parapet bands. These parapet bands are typical of the modernism that has characterized the architectural development of Roche since the 1930s, a stylistic influence that still prevails today. In this respect, Building 1 is a contemporary interpretation of the architectural identity and tradition of Roche.
The simple yet striking shape and the height of the building firmly anchor the Roche grounds within the urban setting. Because of its geometry, Building 1 looks entirely different depending on the angle of view, making it a recognizable landmark for each part of the city from which it is seen. To the south, seen from the Rhine, it appears as a stepped wedge. Depending on the light reflected on the facade, the balustrades and windows merge together to a light volume which dissolves towards the sky. From the east and west, along Grenzacherstrasse, it appears as a slender vertical or staggered tower, whose contours are emphasized by its three dimensional balustrades. Light and shadows emphasize this distinctive impression. At the lower floors, the building relates to the street scale by setting back the band windows. Hence, a smooth transition can be achieved between the human scale and the sleek facades to the north and southern side of the building, the urban scale.
The uses are stacked in accordance with the clearance specifications of the site. The regular stepping provides open-air patio areas that can be accessed from the shared multi-level communication zones linked by sweeping spiral staircases running over two or three floors. These communication platforms are situated on the east and west sides of the building at various levels. In this way, points of orientation are created on each floor where staff can meet to chat, hold informal meetings, relax or take a break in the lounge areas. The spiral staircases are designed in the architectural tradition of Roche, echoing the elegantly sweeping staircase in Otto R. Salvisberg‘s still widely admired managerial building of 1935/36 (Building 21). The height of the building ensures that the 2000 workplaces enjoy fine views, while the relatively narrow form allows ideal natural lighting conditions. The floorplan and structure of the individual floors permit a high degree of versatility in partitioning so that individual offices can be opened up to form open-plan work areas. The glazing in the office areas is complemented by walk-on patio areas in the communication zones, providing outdoor space and natural ventilation.
Highly frequented areas such as the 500-seat auditorium, the staff restaurant as well as the central meeting rooms, are located at the lower level where they are easily accessible by large numbers of employees. These areas take the form of a cantilevered volume, clearly marking the main entrance with the large covered outdoor space. The offices and meeting rooms are located from the 5th floor upwards. The top floor is occupied by a café with outstanding views over Basel and the surrounding area.
Herzog & de Meuron, September 2015