A milestone in the history of timber construction

The serpentine construction of the Swatch main building stretches an impressive 240 m along the river Schüss, spans up to 35 m in width and at its highest point bites into the new Cité du Temps building. Up to five storeys high, on completion the ‘Swatch snake’ will house office and storage space. The timber construction will be clad with a façade, or rather an exterior skin, composed of 3 main façade types.

«IN SPITE OF THE STATE-OF-THE-ART TECHNOLOGY, THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN THE SUCCESS OF THE PROJECT WAS THE PEOPLE WORKING ON IT. EVERYONE HAD TO DO OUTSTANDING WORK IN THEIR FIELD IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE THIS EXTRAORDINARY RESULT. I’M PROUD OF OUR TEAM!»
Richard Jussel, CEO Blumer-Lehmann AG

The wooden, five-storey Cité du Temps building, which was also planned, produced and assembled by Blumer-Lehmann AG, stands on a sleek, Free Form steel and concrete pillar construction. Here, specialist timber construction knowledge was needed, since the structure is an innovative combination of a timber frame and wood element construction. In this building, there is space for the two museums Planet Swatch and Omega Museum and for an auditorium on the top floor. The third timber construction is the Omega production and logistics building. We erected this building back in 2015, which stands about 400 m further west.

All three buildings are architecturally and technically striking. They show what is possible with the combination of innovative architecture, parameterised planning processes, and precision manufacturing and production methods. Notwithstanding the state-of-the-art technology, it is ultimately the people and the interaction of the expertise and skills of all parties involved that ensured the success of this large-scale project.

About the project Swatch

The project managers from Blumer Lehmann planned the Free Form timber construction for the Swatch headquarters in Biel precisely to a 10th of a millimetre. With the aid of parametric planning and highly precise production, logistics and installation, the result was a unique and spectacular construction made of Swiss timber. This extraordinary timber construction was designed by Japanese star architect Shigeru Ban.

Insights from the construction site

Construction kit with 4,600 parts

The entire timber construction comprises 4,600 wooden beams. No component appears in the same version twice. The right element at the right time in the right place to keep the installation process flowing throughout the
10-month construction period – this logistical challenge required meticulous planning, and control and monitoring of processes down to the smallest detail. The components were manufactured mainly on two of our systems in Gossau. Other production partners in Switzerland and abroad were involved in processing with special machines and thus had to be supplied with production data and raw materials. Last but not least, there was the overall logistical coordination. The main portion of our work was completed in late summer 2017. Our specialists mastered the complex task with aplomb. Not once did
a missing component result in construction delays.

The challenge

Richard Jussel, CEO Blumer-Lehmann AG

Richard Jussel, CEO of Blumer-Lehmann AG and the main person responsible for the Swatch-building, talks about the challenges and characteristics of the project.

The production and logistics

Felix Holenstein, project planning

Felix Holenstein, responsible for project planning, raw material procurement, logistics, production and quality control, talks about the special approach of the Swatch project.

The parameterization

Daniel Ehrbar und Jan Hempel, conception 2D/3D

Daniel Ehrbar, responsible for 2D planning and Jan Hempel, responsible for 3D planning, talk about the parameterization and complexity of the Swatch project.

Construction site management

Stefan Bischoff, construction site coordination

Stefan Bischoff, responsible for the installation concept, installation lead on-site and site coordination, gives an insight into the challenges of assembly and component supply at the construction site.

The assembly

Simon Huber und Andreas Raschle, management of assembly

Simon Huber and Andreas Raschle talk about the work on the construction site, the high safety requirements and the challenges of assembling a very complex building.

The last component

In July 2017, we produced the last Free Form component for the Swatch main building on our TW-Mill timber framing. A historic moment!

Interview with architect Shigeru Ban

The works of Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, Pritzker prize winner in 2014, are characterised by innovative design and unconventional material combinations. He is also known for his charitable work with the construction of emergency shelters in crisis zones. Shigeru Ban is an avowed fan of wood and we have had the privilege of implementing various projects together with him in recent years.

Mr Ban, what inspired you to come up with the concept for the Swatch building?

The original request from Swatch Group was to build three separate buildings. I brought them together under a Free Form roof that represents the characteristics of the Swatch brand: playfulness, innovation and provocation. The intention was to create a contrast to the buildings of Omega, the precision, exactness and stability.


What were the central challenges for you in the design process for this project?

The coordination work for the façade elements, electrical installations, climate control and heating, ventilation and the sprinkler system – they all had to be integrated into the timber construction.


What challenges did wood pose for you as the main construction material of the building?


There were not actually any challenges in that regard. Wood is extremely flexible in terms of design and highly precise production, and the installation work is fast and quiet.


How was the collaboration with the team from Blumer-Lehmann AG?

I have a great deal of respect for the team from Blumer-Lehmann AG. They have traditional craftsmanship skills and yet also work with state-of-the-art 3D modelling and CNC machines. I enjoyed working with them and I am looking forward to our next collaboration.

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