The Physic Garden

Thorbjörn Andersson with Sweco architects: When commissioned as designers for the new Physic Garden at Novartis Campus, Basel, Switzerland, the idea of trying to create a modern version of the medieval monastery garden intrigued us. It would add a depth of time to the place, as well as symbolic content: the monastery garden represents the very origin of pharmacy as a science and thus the activity of Novartis as a company. But the Physic Garden is foremost a place to celebrate sensuous phenomena of all kinds. It is a place where mystic scents, changing colors, and seasonal variety can be enjoyed and also studied.

This Physic Garden is based on the monastery garden where, in ancient times, monks developed their knowledge about the pharmaceutical properties in plants, a knowledge that provided the foundation for today´s research efforts. These were often hidden places, laboratories in the outdoors, secluded from public life, containing secrets of utmost importance. Consequently, the Physic Garden at Novartis is hidden, spatially organized as a theatre, or as a labyrinth, or as an onion with many layers. The garden is semi-enclosed, and the visitor enters through a zig-zag movement between backdrops of tall hedges of yew (Taxus) and beech (Fagus). The garden reveals itself step by step. The one who searches will find; a statement which is as relevant to the researcher of today as it was to the medieval monk.

The slightly sunken basin adds to the preciousness of the plants, and placed inside the frame of a low granite wall, these fragile specimens become untouchable. They are viewed from slightly above, and we can read the flower bed as a colorful and textured painting or a striped carpet. Bridges of light construction, without railings, span the sunken bed, permitting the daring visitor a closer examination of the plants, each of which is labeled with an engraved bronze plaque mounted at the edge of the bed.

Along the sides of the sunken bed are four “log racks”, a collection of logs stacked in piles whose forms complement the screens of hedges, and are also reminiscent of a library. The types of wood selected represent tree species from which substances have been extracted and used in ethnopharmacology. A series of amphora-like drinking fountains, designed by artist Pål Svensson, provides a dripping sound, a light-reflecting mirror of water and also refreshment for the visitor. All in all, 70 plant species are on display in the Physic Garden.

Landscape architect: Thorbjörn Andersson with Sweco architects
Project: The Physic Garden
Location: Novartis Campus, Basel, Switzerland
Team: Pege Hillinge, Johan Krikström, Johnny Lindeberg, Emma Norrman (plants), Therese Egnor (plants), Alexander Cederroth (light), Markus Moström (graphics), Pål Svensson (drinking fountains)
Client: Novartis Pharma
Consultants: Schönholzer + Staufer GmbH/ Beat Rösch, Basler + Partner (structural engineering)
Area: 2800m2
Completed: 2012

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