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  • Shimul Javeri Kadri

International Office for Migration, Geneva

Journey through Myriad landscapes, © Baidehi Rej, SJK Architects

We were commissioned through a rigorous process of selection as the only Indian architectural practice to participate in an invited competition for the Office Headquarters of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) - located in the UN district in Geneva, Switzerland.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is a leading intergovernmental organisation in the field of migration and is committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society. They work to protect, support and empower communities displaced or stranded by crisis, help build resilience and focus on reducing disaster risk so that movement and migration can be a choice

IOM’s new building was to house 600 global employees, conference spaces for 300 international UN delegates as well as a public cafe.

Context :

Our first response along with our local partner AAG atelier d'architecture Grivel & Girod SA, was to the context where the United Nations has created a nerve centre in Geneva. The site is on a prominent arterial road with ‘soft mobility” connections to the neighbourhood. (Soft mobility is a term that encourages non -motorised transport like bicycles and pedestrians).

A building is an organism that must make friends with neighbours and invite conversations, so the

first step for us is to address how a new building will fit into the fabric of a city. In this case, how should the building address the main arterial road on the east, how would we connect to the west where existing buildings could become part of the complex, and how would we bring people into the premises with a sense of welcome and involvement.

Moving through the building :

We began our thought process by exploring various locations for vertical movement through staircases and elevators. We could slice through the building diagonally, or in a linear North-South or East-West orientation or use the best feature - the trees on the facade to nestle the main staircase.

We selected the idea of this dynamic staircase nestled in the trees along the east – with streaming sunlight, and winding steps. The staircase expands into breakout spaces for collaborative work and recreation - its position amidst nature inspiring conversations and nurturing bonding. The organic movement of the staircase was also our metaphor for migration as a process.

Dynamic staircase, Skylit center and Terraces of vegetation scooped along the periphery

The second core of staircases and elevators forms a skylit centre for the building. The workspaces around this core are interrupted with terraces of vegetation. This is where much needed fresh air, filtered sunlight and connections to nature can happen. Each terrace represents a different vegetation type, accessible for urban farming.

The winding staircase nestled amongst the existing trees and the landscaped terraces make for a compassionate building befitting a center for migration.

© Lighting artwork on building façade - Artist Shilpa Gupta.

We aspired for a building that is a centre of calm for people dealing with crises and calamities across the globe. We wanted to create a space that eases daily working & allows for easy movement through beauty and nature, and one which encourages collaboration as well as individual work to flourish equally. We visualised a haven of encounters with light and vegetation : but we were also looking for metaphors for the process of migration.

We considered the role of soil and that which grows out of it. As people move, they depend on the soils and vegetation of their migratory path to sustain them. These landscapes are what we chose to integrate into the environment of work and collaboration. We created terraces where the occupants could retreat to, farm, or rest in a variety of landscapes, environmentally controlled to recreate the conditions that would allow food to grow.

The neighbourhood planning allows pedestrians and cyclists easy movements around the building, this encouraged us to position the Café at the ground level and open up to the extended greens.

The winding staircase nestled amongst the existing trees extends into breakout spaces for collaborative work and recreation

Varied spaces were created to encourage flexibility, collaboration and leisure - Post pandemic workspaces have transformed the idea of optimisation and efficient working. The design brief called for flexible working spaces to encourage collaboration as well as individual focus pods, interspersed around pocket terraces - carved along the façade.

Sustainability and Collaborations :

Active and passive energy conservation was the largest goal. The building needed to sit lightly on the earth – physically and metaphorically. Timber harvested out of sustainable forestry and then processed into Glulam or cross-laminated structures promise to be the material for the future. We proposed a timber structure along with Hempcrete walls, detailed to create a light and warm shell by ARUP, our collaborators for structural design & building services on this project along with Xylotek - Specialists in Advanced Timber Structures.

Our landscape collaboration with Hydroplant - AG enabled a facade that is composed of 15 diverse warm weather and evergreen species that are native, non-native, of edible fruiting creepers and fragrant climbers allowing an enhanced biodiversity of nectar-sucking bird species, moths, bees & butterflies that assist with urban farming opportunities. This connection to myriad landscapes would foster the much needed emotional & mental equanimity for the inhabitants of the building to enjoy their working hours.

Incredible learnings, collaborations and a joyous end product. However, we did not win the competition. But we lost to a project that we think was actually a better design than ours, which was a fantastic value add, so we actually feel good about the entire process !

We had to share this one. Let us know what you think !




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