Many hands, one vision


“I made them move the border crossing,” he said pointing toward France just across the Rhine. “It interfered with our plans. I put 100,000,000 Swiss francs on the table and said: ‘Move it over there. Tear down these silos and cranes.’”

Such grandiosity may bring to mind Louis XIV, whose own architectural creations, from Versailles to his summer residence at Marly, were expressions of seemingly unlimited personal power. But Vasella’s agenda could be considered even more sweeping. In eight years, he is halfway through completing a plan to transform a dilapidated chemical complex into one of the most ambitious undertakings in a decade – one known for its architectural one-upmanship. He has built 10 research and office buildings and has plans to complete up to seven more.

Mimicking a formula that has become the norm for big-money development in cities as disparate as Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi, he has hired an army of world-renowned architects – from Frank Gehry to Rafael Moneo to Alvaro Siza and the team of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa – to design the individual buildings. 

From the very beginning Vasella saw the design as a way to reorganise the entire social fabric of his company and foster better communication between those who develop and market his drugs.

Office floors would be laid out to prompt cross-disciplinary interaction; parks and courtyards, decorated with artworks, would be conceived as places of private contemplation. Every square inch, in essence, would be designed to encourage the flow of ideas.

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