The Green - Novartis Campus, Basel

Geological Mimesis

Novartis Pharma AG, Basel
Frank O. Gehry, Los Angeles
2006 - 2010
6 000 m²

In the centre of the Novartis campus, in front of the Gehry building, one can find the Green: a hybrid of square and park that has been designed as an entree for the surrounding buildings and meeting place for persons from the entire campus. The design is based on a clearly defined brief and context: surrounded by representative buildings and undermined by a subterranean auditorium, the Green is expected to keep the views clear. In addition, a soil of maximum 70 cm does not allow for large trees or undulating terrain.


These conditions might remind someone knowing mountain landscapes of a specific natural landscape: karst. In places where limestone has been eroded by glaciers, water and extreme weather conditions, barren landscapes have been formed that are flat, yet perforated by furrows and holes. These landscapes consist of jagged stone along with grasses, but also with some shrubs, short bushes and small trees. One will find hardly any larger trees in karst.

The exterior design of the Green abstracts the distinctive elements of this form of landscape and reinterprets them in the context and the dimensions of the urban environment. Silberen, the most famous karst landscape of Switzerland has been the basis for this adaption that creates a representative, abstract free space: green in its centre, light-colored on its brinks.


The centre of the Green is a forb-rich lawn. It is surrounded by a hard surface made of large-scale limestone-flagstones, the fingers of which grip into the lawn. Stone surfaces of eroded limestone crust, perforated with furrows and joints that are partly covered with vegetation, form the transition between lawn and stone surface. While the herb layer consists of domestic plants, the shrub layer is planted with garden-plants one would not find in karst. High Ash trees surround the Green, an irritation for the eye used to karst: even though ash trees are typical for this landscape, their growth is sparse there.


These subtle irritations within the Green make clear that the natural landscape karst and the Novartis square are not connected by mimicry, but by a geological mimesis: Similar structures have emerged for different reasons and from a different background: Here naturally, there artificially, but inspired by the natural landscape.