Tamedia Office Building


Didier Boy de La Tour

Shigeru Ban, well-known for his use of paper and paperboard, has built an office building in Zurich made entirely of wood — or to be more precise, 2,000 cubic meters of Austrian spruce.

Af Ulf Meyer

The use of wood in multi-story buildings is an art form almost completely buried a hundred years ago, as reinforced concrete structures became the norm worldwide. In recent years, however, the sustainability debate has brought a renaissance to wood and an interest in large, urban, wooden structures has awakened.

The site, where Ban’s new building is situated, has evolved over the last century as a media center of Switzerland. It all started in 1902 when the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper was headquartered on the site; since then, many other media companies have been added. Today, around 1,500 people work on the site. Through takeovers, the company had added scattered sites in and around Zurich and therefore decided to centralize its editorial activities on the Werd area, where the new building now stands.

The height of seven floors and the mansard roof shape respects the neighborhood perimeter block and the peculiarities of the district. The building, in the heart of the city, houses the headquarters of the Tamedia Group and a radio studio. Inaugurated in July 2013, it is the first building to be designed by Ban in Switzerland.

The construction was done completely without steel reinforcement and consists solely of prefabricated, precision-milled timber elements assembled on site. The media house has a glass façade that makes for bright and friendly rooms inside. At the same time, it gives the impression of transparency and thus, the structure of the building becomes tangible. A three-meter-deep double façade along the riverside offers work lounges — some of which extend over two floors — and a cascading staircase that connects all five floors, creating internal shortcut connections.

The double façade acts as a thermal buffer and helps with the natural ventilation of the building. The 60-meter-long glass façade has excellent insulating properties and can be screened with sun shades. The building is operated CO2-free as the heating and cooling come from geothermal groundwater, without the use of fossil fuels. Good thermal insulation and the use of heat pumps keep the operating costs of the first carbon-neutral wooden skyscraper in Switzerland low.

Along with environmental friendliness, the Tamedia Group wanted high architectural standards. the new building is supposed to also contribute to the image of the company; innovation and transparency are positive connotations for any media company.

Shigeru Ban designed a wood structure that follows the Japanese “Miya-daiku “and “Sukiya-daiku” traditions. The Miya-daiku characterizes Japanese temples and shrines and is famous for its refined wood joints; the Sukiya-daiku, on the other hand, is used for the construction of houses and tea rooms with the aesthetic use of rustic materials. The Japanese tradition of carpentry – as represented in the new building in Zurich – does not require the use of glue, nails or screws. The load-bearing timber components are simply interlocked and their pin connections are additionally stabilized by a secondary structure.

However, the design is not old-fashioned. Ban used the precision of CNC-milled components to create the largest timber-frame construction in Switzerland. Wood construction experts computer-controlled the milling of 3,600 cubic meters of spruce into columns, posts, and beams; at the construction site, workers put together this giant kit. Extensive studies were needed to ensure structural safety and compliance with fire regulations.

At the Blumer Lehmann Co., the elements were put together into tall wooden frames of five floors and erected with a crane on site. Then the five-and-a-half-meter-long crossbars were inserted, the crane ropes dissolved, the frames released, and the wooden frames connected. After the insertion of the floors and ceilings (also made of wood), came the installation of the glass façade.

Zurich’s Tamedia building shows that timber construction technologies have matured. The result is now in the hands of innovative architects, engineers and builders to rediscover wood construction for large, inner-city buildings that are architecturally exciting. Wood is a renewable and, if it comes from sustainably managed forests,  environmentally friendly material; it is also friendly on a sensory level, as its appearance, forest-originating smell and rough-hewn, warm texture all titillate the human soul.

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Shigeru Ban Architects