The Holl Shebang

Steven Holl Architects’ colored photovoltaic glass design wins Doctors Without Borders competition

Architecture International News
Steven Holl Architects’ colored photovoltaic glass design wins Doctors Without Borders competition (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)
Steven Holl Architects’ colored photovoltaic glass design wins Doctors Without Borders competition (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

Steven Holl Architects, in collaboration with Rüssli Architekten, has been selected by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) to design the organization’s new Geneva Operational Center. The winning proposal’s playful design was selected unanimously over international proposals from Pool Architekten & Mak Architecture, Sauerbruch Hutton, Emilio Tuñon Arquitectos and Ruckstuhl Architekten, Blue Architects, and Consortium Sou Foujimoto with The New Talent Workshop.

Broken up into several distinct cubic volumes and clad in a boldly colored photovoltaic glass curtain-wall facade, the building has been nicknamed “Colors of Humanity.” Much more than a decorative element, the glass is composed of 40-percent-transparent solar cells. By changing the color and permeability of the glass across the Operational Center, the facade can shade, cool and power the building all at once while still allowing operable windows. When combined with the more efficient photovoltaic panels nestled within the roof garden, and the Geneva district Genilac lake water loop, 72 percent of the building’s electricity will be self-produced.

(Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

(Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

Providing workstations, meeting rooms, classrooms, and social spaces for over 250 Doctors Without Borders employees, the design also offers an inherently flexible approach to programming. By overlaying criss-crossing passages throughout the interior with seated alcoves and meeting spaces, the firm set out to spur spontaneous conversation and collaboration among the many different types of staff.

“These centers serve as a friendly catalyst for interaction, acting like social condensers within the building,” Steven Holl Architects explained.

Providing support for more than 6,300 employees across 23 countries, the Center will house several other international project teams such as the “International Office,” the international secretariat, which includes activities related to the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, and various pilot projects. Keeping the diversity of the organization’s work in mind, the Center’s form and photovoltaic systems were designed with the possibility of expansion in the future.

“Steven Holl Architects’ project is the opportunity for MSF to integrate its core values like independence, impartiality, neutrality, altruism and dynamism in a challenging new architecture and project itself in the future,” said Mathieu Soupart, Logistics Director for the Geneva Operational Center, in a prepared statement.

With an expected start date of spring 2019, the Geneva Operational Center will neighbor the Higher International Studies and Development, designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates, and the Terra and Casa Foundation expatriate housing by Bonnard Woeffray Architectes.

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