Every two years, the world gives itself over to a strange, temporary fervor. United by the thrill of competition and the spec­tacle of international pageantry, we sud­denly become experts in obscure sports, aficionados on the finer points of uniforms, and devoted followers of human-interest stories about instantly minted heroes. For a few eventful weeks, the Olympics gives the world a single, glorious focal point. Behind all of this ceremony is a single organization: the International Olympics Committee.

Headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, the roe is comprised of more than 500 professionals and an executive board that hails from more than a dozen countries. Previously scattered throughout multi­ple buildings-including an 18th-century chateau that still stands-the organiza­tion has now brought all of its operations under one roof, coinciding with its 125th anniversary. Located in Louis-Burget Park and perched near the shore of Lake Geneva, the recently-completed Olympic House is a $144 million, 237,000 square foot monument to the Olympic Games and its lofty goals.

With an organization as storied and sym­bol-oriented as the roe, every design decision on Olympic House would have to reflect its tenant’s mission. Brought to life by Copenhagen-based architecture firm 3XN, Olympic House is a sterling example of designing around an organization’s values instead of merely providing for its day-to-day needs. Core to the building’s form, layout, and construction are the roe’s values of flexibility, sustainability, and movement. Taken together, it’s a triumph of symbolic design.

The undulating glass form of the building appears differently from each angle, evoking an athlete in motion. The build­ing’s footprint fills up its constrained park site without dominating it and cozies up to its chateau predecessor without dwarfing it. It’s an impressive trick for such a contemporary structure, which could otherwise appear alien or garish in its context.

The five-story building seems committed to easing its transition with its natural surroundings through sloping green terraces that climb to the second story and lawns that encircle the site. Its form manages to be simultaneously grand and deferent. From above, the building appears pinched in the middle, softening what could be an otherwise-imposing structure and creating inviting angles and crea­ting as much natural light as possible for its inhabitants.

Inside, the office space is almost entirely open-plan, delivering on the Olympic value of flexibility and creating opportuni­ties for interaction and collaboration. The entire structure contains only 14 columns, allowing for endless reconfiguration with the aid of movable partitions throughout the space and future-proofing the space by allowing for continual adaptation around working styles.

As one might expect from the IOC, Olympic House is an impressively sustainable build­ing. It’s estimated to be Switzerland’s most sustainable mod rn Ii · ding, and with its LEED v4 Platinum certifi­cation, it’s also one of the world’s most rigorously-certified structures. On the roof stands an array of solar panels that recall .q the shape of a dove, delivering ten percent of the building’s required energy. Pipes carry water from the neighboring lake to heat and cool the building. And controls throughout the building allow workers to customize the temperature and lighting for their immediate surroundings.

The Olympic House is a potent reminder that buildings are not simply containers for organizations. At their best, they act as symbols, carrying out mission statements with their choices and subsequently encou­raging their inhabitants to live out certain values as they go about their work. As the world looks to the Olympic Games for examples of the best humanity can achieve, it’s only fitting that its building should do the same for design.

The IOC’s previous headquarters-a grand mansion in use since 1968-signaled a certain historic prestige but also a kind of austerity and exclusivity. Olympic House boldly declares a posture of openness, pro­gressive intent, and adaptability.

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER 2019 – Amazing Buildings