Global biotech firm Genzyme’s new corporate headquarters is a 12-story glassy surprise in redbrick Cambridge, Massachusetts. Part of the 10-acre Kendall Square development, it is one of several buildings to result from a design competition. Behnisch Behnisch & Partner, of Stuttgart and Los Angeles, submitted a design inspired by daylight, energy efficiency, air quality, and other sustainable-design aims—captivating the jury, developers, and Genzyme’s CEO, Henri Termeer. “They designed a building that is alive on the inside, where people can work creatively and productively,” Termeer says. “They picked up strongly on Genzyme’s innovative nature and collaborative culture, and helped us realize our goal of creating a building that is responsible both to the community and to our employees.”
Lacking the energy-hogging laboratories of many of the company’s other facilities, the headquarters provided a unique opportunity, project manager Gordon Brailsford says. “Our CEO was inspired by Behnisch’s approach to the building as an organism,” he says, “something that would react to elements of nature, including people.”
The 350,000-square-foot building may become the country’s largest to be certified at the platinum level of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, and its technological innovations will certainly provide a model for other green high-rises in this country. Yet architect Stefan Behnisch, who has been building green in Europe for years, finds the point-based approach slightly contrived. “It offers few points for daylight enhancement and focuses a great deal on recycling and transport of materials,” he says. “It seems focused on improving standard buildings rather than really pushing invention.” He does expect the building to earn innovation points, which are usually awarded for new uses of technologies or materials but can also be earned for exceeding LEED thresholds significantly.
For American architects and clients, the inspiration may lie not in the Genzyme building’s long list of bells and whistles—though some are compelling—but in the idea that sustainability can be a form driver, even on a site with strict guidelines. Aesthetically this mutable multicolor glass box may strike just the right note of individualism while maintaining height and massing conventions.