Locals became curious, wondering about the view from the top and the interior design. The controversial structure opened its doors to the public, with guided tours teaching interested locals about the architecture. Like how the spiral staircases are an homage to 20th-century Roche architect Otto R. Salvisberg’s elegant balustrades. Or how the floors themselves were designed to spark innovation by giving employees comfortable ways to collaborate and communicate, as well as eat and relax. They learned about its earthquake-resistant structure and its energy-efficient system that uses waste energy to heat the building and groundwater for cooling.

Like anything new, it took some time. Eventually, people began to see it differently – less like a Tetris block and more as a beacon for the future of biotech. Sitting on the original site where Roche was founded 125 years ago, drawing from traditions of the past but with a modern outlook, it has become an icon of the Basel skyline and a source of pride: a symbol of cutting-edge technology and first-rate healthcare innovation with a 125-year-old legacy.

It was a construction site for five years. Neighbours grumbled as they watched the Roche Tower in Basel, Switzerland go up, floor by floor. There were complaints about loss of sunlight and the annoying building noises six days a week. Aesthetically, the building itself was divisive, many finding it ugly and comparing it to a giant cheese grater or coining it “the pizza box tower.”

Whether you loved it or hated it, on September 15, 2015, the Roche Tower, also known as Building 1, became the highest building in Switzerland. Although it was a time of exodus, with many companies leaving for less expensive countries and cheaper labour, Roche chose to construct a promise in the form of a 178-meter, 41-storey building designed by Basel-based architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron. As Roche CEO Severin Schwan remarked: “We also regard Building 1 as a clear commitment to Switzerland and to Basel.” Basel has always been, and continues to be, Roche’s home.

Baslers open up about the Roche Tower with plenty of harrumphings, Novartis loyalists and even poetic musings.

Tell us how you really feel!

And for those who thought it appeared lonely, you’ll be happy to know that Building 2 will open in the spring of 2022. Though not yet finished, at 205 metres and with nine extra floors, it has already dethroned Building 1 as the tallest in Switzerland.

From September 28 to October 1, Roche is offering a whole new way to look at Building 1. For four days, the Roche Tower will turn into the country’s biggest canvas, displaying an art show created out of lights, sounds and human imagination. Watch the replay here.

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