A pioneer of industrial architecture
Roche buildings express a good deal about the corporate culture. They follow the same seven architectural principles worldwide.
“What a city has to say must find expression in its architecture.” This statement by Walter Wallmann, the former Lord Mayor of Frankfurt/Main, is equally true of corporate architecture. In other words, architecture expresses what a company has to say. In 1935, Otto R. Salvisberg was commissioned by Roche in Basel to design a new administration building (Building 21). The attributes of “clarity” and “timeless functionality” have since been the hallmarks of Roche architecture and epitomize the company credo. The concept of “spartan elegance” can also be used to characterize Roche buildings worldwide.
Architecture, along with Roche’s tradition of cultural sponsorship for the visual arts and music, is a key component of its corporate identity. Roche buildings express a good deal about the corporate culture. They can be identified at diverse locations worldwide simply by their formal congruence and common context. Based on the initiative by Kolja Bartscherer, Head of Diagnostics Global Engineering and Facilities, the former Roche architect Gérard Wagner joined with Pharma colleagues in defining the so-called “7 Principles” for the construction of Roche buildings worldwide—the aim being to create an encompassing identity that is perceived by employees, visitors and the general public.
The “7 Principles,” which are fleshed out in a comprehensive design guide, are applicable to all building types, i.e. research, production, warehouse and administration facilities. The guidelines for the shaping of buildings are complemented by directions for interiors referring to functions (offices, laboratories, cafeterias, etc.).
History of Roche architecture
Strictly speaking, the history of Roche architecture does not begin until 1935. During the start-up period, from 1896 to 1935, the Basel headquarters and several other sites had housed an assortment of mostly plain, functional buildings.
The idea of creating a uniform architecture only emerged when Roche embarked upon its global expansion and the enlargement of its headquarters. The then company president, Emil Barell, noted for his thrift and authoritative manner, appointed Otto Rudolf Salvisberg, a Swiss architect who, before taking up a professorship at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) Zurich, had earned his spurs in Berlin. A broad-shouldered, heavyset man, Salvisberg was a reserved and sensitive person at heart, albeit with the willful streak purportedly typical of the Bernese. The mismatched pair of Barell and Salvisberg struck up a surprisingly fruitful partnership. Together, they ushered in an architectural epoch that has endured to this day. Salvisberg designed the administration building (Building 21) at Basel in 1935. His first production facility on the northern site (Building 29) served as a prototype for further developments worldwide.
By commissioning Salvisberg not only to design the administrative complex but also, in 1939, to draw up a master plan for the Basel site, Barell made a pioneering contribution to the evolution of industrial architecture. When the Second World War necessitated the outsourcing of research and production activities to England and the United States, the buildings there likewise took their cue from the Basel prototype.
After Salvisberg’s death in 1940, his work at Roche passed to his partner Roland Rohn. The Building 52 high-rise, Building 71 administrative block and Building 68–70 research facilities, which still shape the company’s Rhine frontage, were all constructed under Rohn’s stewardship. The third phase in Roche’s architectural history covers the post-1970 period. During this time, distinguished architects have been entrusted with the faithful development of the Roche design concept, in the spirit of the original precepts, on projects worldwide. This has involved much more than clinging to traditional, standardized solutions. Consideration is always given to the potential offered by newly developed materials and constructions. Yet the “7 Principles” constantly ensure that Roche’s values and clearly defined credo are also reflected in its architecture—not only in Switzerland, but worldwide.
Roche buildings respond to existing natural features of the environmental context of a site. They do not appear as solitary or stylized objects. Roche buildings are part of a balanced site development concept that is referenced by a master plan.
In industrial construction, functionality is the most important factor. The functional design is devoted to supporting the user requirements.
The form of Roche buildings is characterized by clarity, balance and a relation to human scale. Roche buildings are of a restrained, timeless elegance.
Awareness of the vertical dimension is crucial to the experience of space. Clear floor plans and the coherent integration of vertical components are key to the creation of balanced interior and exterior volumes.
Elements are tangible components that lend character to a building. Special attention is given to entrance areas, staircases, handrails and fenestration. Elements are derived from functionality and contain aesthetic values.
Light is the visible energy that enables perception of space, form and color. Natural light brings plasticity to a structure and enhances the quality of the work environment.
Roche buildings have a bright appearance and are modeled on the concept of the white factory. White and light gray are preferred color tones. They communicate the image of cleanliness, a paradigm for a healthcare company. Other colors are used as accents.