Pritzer Prize-winner Shigeru Ban has made a career out of pushing the limits of timber construction. This week, the Japanese architect celebrated the completion of one of the largest hybrid mass timber structures in the world.

The 500,000-square-foot Swatch and Omega Campus in Biel, Switzerland took 8.5 years to build and is composed of three new buildings by Shigeru Ban Architects (SBA): The Swatch Headquarters, the Omega Factory, and the Cité du Temps, a flexible space serving as a conference hall and museum for both of the Swatch/Omega companies. While the buildings share commonalities in their function and composition, each carries its own distinct qualities. The Swatch Headquarters has a light and airy quality, with an arched, coffered canopy made of 7,700 individual pieces of engineered timber. Meanwhile, the Omega Factory presents itself as a more rectilinear, fixed structure, with exposed timber elements blending among paneled glass walls. The result is a clean, sharp aesthetic that highlights the duality of the building.

Construction photo of a gridded wooden structure

The tunnel-like timber roof under construction. (Philippe Zinniker)

The Cité du Temps acts as a crossroads for the watch manufacturing company, which operates 18 subsidiary brands, in its function as a space for meetings and exhibitions. To demonstrate this point, SBA designed the third building to intersect with the canopy of the Swatch Headquarters—here, the building becomes both a symbolic and physical link between the subsidiaries of the Swatch Group.

SBA has always advocated for the use of wood in architectural design, arguing that it is one of the only truly renewable resources in construction. In addition, timber construction reduces the carbon footprint of buildings, cuts down the cost and duration of construction, and could even make tenants feel happier and healthier.

In its tactical use of timber, SBA has long led the charge in sustainable design practices, tracing back to Shigeru Ban’s experiences with disaster relief efforts.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony in Biel celebrated SBA’s remarkable achievement on October 3.

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