The architecture that connects: we entered the Novartis Pavilion in Basel, designed by AMDL Circle and Michele De Lucchi

The work of AMDL CIRCLE and Michele De Lucchi opens a door into the elusive world of the pharmaceutical industry, putting available to the community an interpretative key and a new awareness of the background of research in the field of life sciences.

If curiosity and suspicion - especially the latter, in times of pandemic - connote in the collective imagination the perception of pharmaceutical giants with their billionaire assets and their 'impregnable' strongholds, the new pavilion designed by the Milanese studio AMDL CIRCLE by Michele De Lucchi for Novartis, inside the terraced park designed by Günther Vogt, marks a decisive stage in the history not only of the company but also of the city of Basel and, in a broader sense, in the possible approach to Big Pharma.

With the construction of the pavilion, intended to house exhibition spaces, for training and events, the intention was to open to the public - for the first time in the history of the multinational - the doors to the world of pharmacology and research, providing cognitive tools which, if on the one hand they do not put out the fire of controversy, on the other they are able to provide an interpretative viaticum of the codes of the pharmaceutical industries.

In any case, what catches the eye is that it is an operation that transcends the limits of self-referential marketing and that goes into much more fruitful territories of intellectual stimulation, interdisciplinary dialogue and confrontation in an open and participatory way.

The building is characterized by a clearly recognizable domed and luminescent volume, which looks like a UFO landed on the banks of the Rhine, in a perfect synthesis between technology, communication and poetic expression.

Developed on two floors and a mezzanine, the circular layout – a historically consolidated typology in the pavilions – evokes the universal themes of connectivity and inclusion, as De Lucchi states: “The layout of the Novartis Pavillon is inspired by the universal symbolism of the circle, considered a powerful field of psychophysical energy, a sort of sacred area where all physical and spiritual forces are concentrated.

Because architecture itself must communicate energy, inspire and promote connections between different voices and cultures".

On the ground floor, enclosed by continuous glass that allows the eye to filter seamlessly towards the surrounding landscape, the open plan with the entrance foyer, cafeteria and reception welcomes visitors and provides flexible spaces for learning, meetings and events.

On the mezzanine level, a multi-media theater with steps connects the ground floor to the upper floor where the permanent exhibition Wonders of Medicine is located, curated by Atelier Brückner.

The exhibition guides the discovery of life sciences, along a fluid path between past, present and future, divided into four sections with a rich narrative apparatus including listening booths, interactive panels and multimedia tables: Fragility of Life tells how diseases and therapies affect patients' lives; From Lab to Patient shows the production processes of a drug; Steps through Time focuses on the history of medicine and the pharmaceutical industry in Basel; Future of Healthcare questions about the social and ethical implications shaping the future of healthcare, inviting visitors to participate in virtual discussions with experts.

Light is an essential design element: if the ground floor is irradiated by the diffused light that penetrates through the continuous windows, the exhibition floor is characterized by an enveloping and immersive atmosphere, where artificial lighting interacts with the luminous effects of monitors and video installations.

Inside, the palette of materials was chosen to suggest a soft and welcoming atmosphere: the bleached laminated wood structures dialogue with the light gray terrazzo floors, with the dark green dividing curtains and with the details in natural oak wood.

The customized furniture project was curated by AMDL CIRCLE and created by Production Privata, the company created by Michele De Lucchi that promotes experimental design and craftsmanship.

Particular attention was paid to the choice of materials, including oak wood which gives the furnishing elements (Benedetto tables, Bacchetta sofas, Possum stools – these the latter made ad hoc) a domestic and informal character.

Outside, a diaphanous surface with a media value gives the architecture the character of a symbolic 'lantern of knowledge' and underlies the theme of transparency in industrial processes.

Developed on the basis of parametric studies by AMDL CIRCLE in collaboration with the iart studio of Basel, the envelope is a multilayer membrane with diagonal mesh placed 50 centimeters from the metal roof , consisting of a system of double-sided organic photovoltaic panels and a grid of LED lights.

The membrane, which feeds itself thanks to solar energy captured by the photovoltaic without any energy expenditure, acts as a continuous and dynamic screen: depending on the time of day, the architectural 'skin' transforms into a communicative tool that projects the site-specific light installations by the artists Daniel Canogar, Esther Hunziker and Semiconductor, in an expressive lexicon – between cells and chemical processes – borrowed from medicine.

As De Lucchi states, the Novartis Pavillon is a project "oriented towards the future, innovative, open and optimistic", which represents a considerable step forward with respect to the needs for transparency, sustainability and sharing expressed by the community towards the industrial world, and above all the pharmaceutical and health sector, which, more than the others, inevitably affects everyone sooner or later and in which it is therefore appropriate for everyone to take an interest.

Photo: Rasmus Hjortshøj