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INTERIORS CASE STUDY:
Merck Serono

Geneva, Switzerland

Ecological Antidote: A biotechnology company considers environmental health and sustainability for its new headquarters.

By Penny Bonda

The client and the design team of the new  Merck Serono headquarters in Geneva brilliantly accomplished an outcome rarely identified as a guiding design vision, yet one unquestionably important to organizational success: sense of place. The 1,200 workers at the global biotechnology company, created by a merger in 2006, had been scattered over six sites in the Swiss city. Bringing the disparate staff together to a single campus-style location was an obvious project directive; uniting them into a community, however, did not happen automatically or easily. It required strategic space and materials solutions that emphasized community, comfort, and communication.

Merck Serono , Geneva, Switzerland
Photo © Tim Soar

Merck Serono, Geneva, Switzerland

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KEY PARAMETERS
OWNER: Geneva, Switzerland
GROSS SQUARE FOOTAGE: 430,556 ft2 (40,000 m2) COMPLETED: December 2006
PROGRAM: Reception areas, library, cafe, kiosk, atrium, restaurant, offices, speak-easies, executive suites

TEAM
OWNER: Merck Serono
ARCHITECT: Murphy/Jahn
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Mackay & Partners
ENGINEER: EGS
CONTRACTOR: Steiner
LIGHTING: L-Plan
LANDSCAPE: Olaxis Architects Paysagistes

SOURCES
RESTAURANT FURNITURE: Arper s.p.a.
ROLLING RACK/TEA POINTS: Ahrend International
EXECUTIVE AREA FURNITURE: B+B Italia Spa CHAIRS: Bene
SPEAKEASY SEATING: BPA International s.r.l
PARTITIONS: Faram Spa
MEETING PODS AND CAFE, KIOSK POD AND SERVERY: M3 Design Development Limited
SHELVING AND DESKS, RESTAURANT TABLES, BENCHES, ATRIUM SEATING: Molteni & C 
PARTITIONS, JOINERY, DOORS, SPEAKEASY TEA POINTS, RECEPTION DESK: Roethlisberger
OFFICE DESKS AND STORAGE, MDL SYSTEM WORKSTATIONS, MDL MEETING TABLES: Unifor
TASK CHAIRS: Steelcase (Think)
CARPETS: Bentley Carpets, executive area; Milliken, office areas

Awarded the interior project after winning an international competition, Mackay + Partners, a London-based multidisciplinary practice, faced the challenge of ensuring a seamless integration of architecture and interiors in a building already under construction. The primary architect, Chicago’s Murphy/Jahn, designed six linked buildings with a total floor area of 807,000 square feet, connected under the roof by an atrium. M+P designed 430,556 square feet of this vast project, the largest in Geneva in 2006. M+P’s scope included all public spaces and offices, executive suites, conference rooms, meeting rooms, and other support spaces.

The implementation of energy-efficient concepts, including daylighting, natural ventilation, and solar technology, maximizes the use of natural resources and minimizes mechanical equipment needs, resulting in a building that modulates its own climate. The glass-and-steel structure—more glass than steel—is located on the shores of Lake Geneva and uses the lake water as a geothermal source for heating and cooling. “Because Swiss code strictly prohibits mechanical air conditioning,” says M+P senior partner Ken Mackay, “we collaborated closely with the architects to optimize the use of natural resources, such as installing a humidity-producing rain cloud in the atrium.” Other strategies include external stainless-steel blinds and interior fabric shades on the south elevations to control heat gain and glare.

The designers also joined forces with German manufacturer Gebr, Kufferath AG on a supergraphic that dominates the back of the atrium. Made from beeswax embedded with LEDs, the striking media wall is computer controlled to showcase video or still images of Merck Serono product launches, company information, and other messages. “The beeswax is a heat-resistant hard-wearing surface that will last 10 to 15 years,” Mackay says. “It’s a Times Square look, but softer.”

M+P used translucency, visual connection, and color to further soften and bring order to the vast interior spaces. Through a series of bridges designed to form meeting places where the bridges intersect, the designers have cleverly created inviting work areas within a large open building that might otherwise overwhelm its occupants. These popular spots, dubbed speakeasies, are furnished with striking red seating, which plays against the frosted-white glass floors of the bridges; their purpose is to increase communications within the company. The restaurant, cafe, library, and gym have been more successful than anticipated in connecting people who had never worked together before, according to Gavin Harris, an M+P partner and interior designer.

The guiding philosophy in materials selection, as dictated by the client, centered on the use of natural materials and a commitment to bringing in the outdoors. Stone used to landscape the exterior was brought into the atrium; timber used in the restaurant was carried through to the decking outside. According to Harris, recyclability and adaptation for reuse informed the furnishing choices, such as the carpets and demountable office partitions.

As one of the biggest buildings in Geneva, the scale of the Merck Serono headquarters is impressive. It sits beautifully within the landscape and links to the lake, creating a true sense of place where people can connect. It’s not a place where people just come to work and then leave.

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This article appeared in the January 2008 print issue of GreenSource Magazine

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