East Hanover, New Jersey
Bamboo poles are not uncommon in construction, though they typically conjure thoughts of tropical huts and tiki torches rather than large-scale utilitarian structures. Architect Vittorio Lampugnani envisioned something quite different, however, seeing incredible promise in the sturdy, inexpensive material to bring warmth to an often overlooked, and more often unattractive, building type. When asked by Novartis to design a parking garage for its East Hanover, New Jersey, campus—his first—he came up with another first: he sheathed the six-story, 633,000-square-foot structure with precisely aligned rows of the woody stalks.
In embarking on the design process, the Milan- and Zurich-based Lampugnani looked at the history of parking garages and the earliest examples of multistory car lots he found, dating from 1918. With few exceptions, not much has changed over the last century. While Herzog & de Meuron's 1111 Lincoln Road parking structure in Miami was innovative for its lack of exterior walls, Lampugnani wanted a real facade. As master planner of both the East Hanover and Basel campuses of Novartis, he, more than anyone, realized the need for the garage to look friendly and inviting from both near and far. It also needed to fit in with adjacent buildings and the overall design of the landscape and public spaces.
The clients themselves were not completely sold on the idea at first, and their engineers said it would not work because it had never been done. Lampugnani describes their initial reaction to the bamboo as “surprise,” but they became convinced after a full-scale mock-up of the facade was built. The bamboo exterior had no precedent, and strict building codes made the process “completely new and challenging,” according to the architect. Though the permeable walls are clearly not load-bearing, they still required a high fire rating. Several coatings were tested on the bamboo before achieving approval.
The 9-foot-4-inch-tall bamboo poles are affixed to the precast-concrete structure with custom curved brackets on steel bars. Nine-inch-wide openings between them cast a playful shadow and allow enough natural ventilation to eliminate the need for a cumbersome mechanical system. Every building on the Novartis campus features a ground-floor amenity for its employees, and the garage is no exception. Contained within a narrow strip along the building's western edge is a two-story employee fitness center, placed in the parking structure the way a valuable piece of furniture is placed in a house. Though Lampugnani says he worked within a tight budget, he was able to convince Novartis – “by insisting a lot,” he says—to add one other flourish to the building. A striking eye-shaped poured-in-place concrete staircase that invites users to ascend and descend the levels on foot rather than use the elevator. “You put money where it is important,” explains Lampugnani, who notes that the stair ended up requiring more design work rather than added construction cost.
Though Lampugnani was able to see past the traditional uses of bamboo at the outset of the project, he too remained uncertain about what the final results would yield. “You never fully imagine the spatial impact of a building—even with renderings—until it is built,” he admits. “This turned out to be a not-unpleasant surprise.”
Architect of Record:
Turner Construction Company
Dr. Aurello Muttoni
633,000 square feet
Metal/glass curtain wall: