In La Brassus in Switzerland, the country’s famed predilection for precision and Danish nonchalance join forces: Luxury watchmakers Audemars Piguet are expanding the company headquarters to feature a new build by Bjarke Ingels. The latter’s BIG office won the closed competition back in the summer of 2014. During the interview, Kai-Uwe Bergmann, a partner at BIG, is still very much in the throes of ‘Swiss fever’. Only a few weeks earlier, he recalls, 120 of the “Bigsters” from the company toured Switzerland by bus to see Swiss architecture with their own eyes and seek sources of inspiration. The impressions gained during the excursion are still very much present in the air during the interview, making Bergmann’s comments on the planned architecture all the more lively.
Adeline Seidel: You’ve just done a grand tour of Switzerland. In your opinion, how does Danish or Scandinavian architecture differ from that in Switzerland?
Kai-Uwe Bergmann: I can of course only speak for BIG’s projects. But anyone who is familiar with them notices from the playful way we design architecture that we actually have a lot of fun at work. I would go so far as to say when considering our proposal for the Audemars Piguet building: A Swiss or a German architect would have done it differently. The architecture corresponds to the unconventional Danish or Nordic way of tackling space. The new build will bring together three different purposes: It will combine a museum, new workshop rooms for the watchmakers, and give visitors an insight into the fascinating craftsmanship of the ancient art of watchmaking. Similar projects have been undertaken by carmakers: You pick up your new car, after first having a look at the production lines in action, finding out exciting things from the history of the company, and thus as a client feel a strong bond to the product and marque, because you know how and where it was manufactured. Incidentally, company staff members will get the best spaces, as the watchmakers’ desks will enjoy a marvelous view out over the wonderful countryside.
Adeline Seidel: The spiral-shaped building is reminiscent of the balance in a watch. Is this analogy pure coincidence?
Kai-Uwe Bergmann: No, of course not. We came up with the spiral shape very early on. The interesting thing about these watches is that they really are all handmade. They are made up of really tiny elements that use springs to create tension and then drive the highly complicated and extremely precise time machines. It’s incredibly impressive. And we thus asked ourselves: How can we transpose this power onto the architecture? This spawned the idea of a building without any visible supports, entered through an underground access route. Underground to create a respectful distance to the historical building. Inside the new build you then follow the course of the spiral, find out all sorts of interesting things from the history of Audemars Piguet and can gaze at the watchmakers busy at work, all before you reach the center of the spiral, where you can collect your watch. As stated, all of the rooms are support-free, the only load-bearing structure being the glass of the façade.