Field Trip :: swissnex Boston


swissnex Boston - Photos by Ian Hester

By Ian Hester, BArch Candidate

Natural light is indubitably an important feature in design, yet it is often underutilized. Effective usage of it can lead to increased energy performance in a building, as well as improved health and comfort levels for the people who live and work there. These benefits of natural light were the focus of the design process of Muriel Waldvogel, of Geneva-based architecture firm Convergeo, in her design for the addition to the swissnex Boston building in Cambridge.
The glass addition does not seem out of place with the brick
Swissnex, a division within the Swiss consulate that works in innovation hubs such as Cambridge to strengthen the role of Switzerland as a world leader in science and education, has a mission that aims to create "cooperation in an innovative, inspiring, and rewarding atmosphere." When swissnex Boston outgrew its one story brick masonry building, they sought a design for an addition that would symbolize this mission statement.
The residential side is largely opaque, to respect the privacy of neighbors

The second story glass pavilion-style space, which is surrounded by an extensive green roof, reflects the organization's mission statement by applying glass in an innovative fashion to create specific lighting conditions for the dual purposes of both sustainability and the health and well-being of the employees. The use of a low emissivity coating on the glass improves the energy usage of the building throughout the year, while allowing the natural light to permeate the entire area of the addition.
The glass wall curves in to create stronger light in certain areas
The design of the addition also cooperates with the surrounding environment by being respectful of the subdued institutional and residential urban context and by giving back to the surrounding area through the heat island and stormwater runoff benefits created by the green roof. The placement of the green roof around the front and sides of the addition create a second story setback, which maintains the original street edge of brick masonry and prevents the modern glass addition from intruding upon the traditional neighborhood.
The setback of the addition maintains the brick masonry street edge
The thoughtful design implemented in the swissnex Boston addition traverses architecture, interior design, sustainability, and urban design. This wide angle approach is arguably essential to successful design, and it is certainly worth studying.

If you have a chance, head over to 420 Broadway in Cambridge, across the street from the Cambridge Public Library, and take a look at this building. It is quite difficult to find parking, so if you can, just take the T to Harvard Square Station and walk over.