Striking the right balance between technology and design

Interview with Niels Montandon, project manager at Diener & Diener Architects


Niels Montandon, project manager at Diener & Diener Architects

Mr Montandon, you are the project manager at Diener & Diener Architects for the Swiss Re Next construction project. What does your area of responsibility cover?

As the project manager, I’m in charge of coordinating the work of the team in our office, and I also act as the interface to the construction project as the contact person for the building owner and the general planning team. In the actual planning work, I am responsible for various overarching special topics. So I'm a hub within the project, so to speak, where various processes converge and are made to work in concert.

You are also in charge of final planning. What exactly does this involve?

It’s all about providing the necessary plans for the interior work on the building site in order to enable all the trades to do their work accordingly. Some of the information in the plans require years of preparation. In the final planning phase, we’re preparing plans which in a sense are the operating instructions for the trades.  

“In the current final planning phase, we’re preparing plans which in a sense are the operating instructions for the trades.”

This sounds like a very complex process that calls for a great deal of precision but also for a good overall view.

The big picture is our guide and the basis for the many different decisions that need to be taken. On the one hand, the details of the project are being developed further continuously, and we need to take into account the requirements of the building permit as well as of the conceptual framework, such as fire protection and thermal and noise insulation provisions. On the other hand, we also need to optimise the project and include any change requests of the building owner. So we need to do a lot of coordinating and aligning. Every single detail for implementation is minutely recorded. My team and I need to ensure that the implementation plans are prepared with such detail and transparency that the workers on the building site are able to work efficiently and effectively.

What needs to be considered in particular?

As in any large project, the tight deadlines are certainly a big challenge. As soon as work on the building site has started – that is, when the plans are being implemented – we as the execution planners need to provide plans at a high rate to ensure smooth operations. The plans are the language of the architects. Swiss Re Next is a very demanding project which requires a great deal to coordinate, not only for the Auditorium. And keeping track of things is a Herculean task.

What is your personal challenge?

In my work, it’s always important to strike the right balance between technical construction solutions and design requirements. When dealing with technical problems, you always need to take the time to step back, observe and check whether you are meeting the demands of the building. We’re not just reeling off a programme. The requirements of the architecture of the building need to be maintained and met right through to completion. And with the tight deadlines we need to keep, this can be quite a challenge.

“In my work, it’s always important to strike the right balance between technical construction solutions and design requirements.”

Moreover, with Swiss Re Next we act on the maxim that each millimetre counts. Space is very constrained especially on the basement floors, which makes the installation of building technology particularly demanding.

You just mentioned the auditorium. Can you elaborate a bit on this?

The auditorium developed into a special challenge in the course of the project – a project within the project, so to speak. The auditorium is a windowless room in the basement floors for which the requirements for multimedia projection changed in the course of the project. This raised many questions for which we needed to find the right answers.

In what respect?

The room is being fitted with large-scale LED panels which generate high thermal loads. This proved to be a tough nut to crack. The room seats up to 240 persons and heats up to temperatures that could well be perceived as being unpleasant. For this situation we have found a solution that discharges the heat via the ventilation system.

That may not sound very challenging at first, but it turned out to be a tricky job. Cool air needs to be fed into the room to absorb the heat, but too much air would again be unpleasant for people in the room. We had to find a solution which ensures that people feel comfortable and don’t even notice any of the technical arrangements in the background. Ultimately, that’s our overall objective. None of the huge technical effort we put into the building should be visible in the end.

“Ultimately, that’s our overall objective. None of the huge technical effort we put into the building should be visible in the end.”

How did you finally manage to solve the problem?

We dealt with the situation by building a “room within a room". We installed wall panelling in the auditorium that provides a cavity. That’s where we’re installing the building technology. The suspended ceiling, a so-called cooling ceiling, also absorbs warm air and thus allows us to cool down the room further. Despite the challenges with the technical installations, we’re still able to meet the high standards of the LEED and MINERGIE certifications. For example, we feed the cooling system with water from the lake. In other words, we don’t need any artificial coolants, and this helps us to comply with the energy balance.

Finally, what makes your work special? What motivates you?

It’s always special for me – and for everyone in the team – to see something beginning to take shape that we’ve been planning at the office for years and only ever seen in our minds, on plans and with models before. All the more so when you've managed to achieve the “impossible” and meet all requirements under one roof. Despite tight deadlines, this prospect always energises and motivates me: seeing a planned building become a tangible reality.