On Labs: Nature-Inspired Corporate Space in Zurich

On Labs, a corporate space located in Zurich, Switzerland, is an impressive 15 000 sqm office complex designed by Specific Generic in 2023.

The project is inspired by nature, technology and human spirit and it showcases the very best of Swiss and Scandinavian design. It features an in-house gym, mountain trail-inspired path, height-adjustable tables, water stations, movable walls, an exhibition space, bar, canteen, lab, workshops, studios, rooftop garden and library. All of these elements promote movement and interaction among employees, giving them a sense of community.

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About On Labs

On, a Swiss performance running shoe company, asked Specific Generic to design a functional, flexible and attractive work environment that communicates the brand’s values. Having designed numerous retail spaces for the brand across the globe, Specific Generic adapted an area of 15,000 square meters (16,145 square yards) to the mantra of nature, technology, and human spirit.

Creating Movement and Interaction

To promote movement and interaction among employees, Specific Generic added a mountain trail-inspired path running through the 17-story complex, height-adjustable tables in 95% of the meeting rooms, an in-house gym, and water stations to encourage hydration.

Providing a Sense of Community

The space was divided into neighbourhoods to provide a sense of community and social context. Each neighbourhood was given three floors with different functions, allowing employees to move between focus, social, or collaborative areas.

Experiences Along the Mountain Trail

Specific Generic laid out the building’s functions as experiences along the mountain trail going up the building. As the steps became narrower and steeper for each floor going up, they incorporated earthy tones and heavy shapes on the bottom floors, while the upper floors followed themes of forests, lakes, clouds, and thin air at the border to space.

Flexible, Fluid Spaces

Movable walls were applied throughout the offices to provide flexible and fluid spaces. One example is the library, where the pivoting book shelves also act as room dividers, creating a soft meeting room where people can learn more about the company and the interests of those who work there. At the design department, the generous double ceiling height was utilized by constructing micro architecture pieces within the space. To seclude this area, where new ideas are born, from the rest of the office, diffused colored glass was used for limited access.

Raw Materials and Traditional Techniques

The building’s key materials have purposely been left raw and with as little human intervention as possible. These include concrete, oakwood, stainless steel, and rocks directly from nature. The oakwood is used throughout the building, including a big table made from a slice of a tree. The exhibition space that showcases the very first prototype of the On shoe features a traditional Japanese method of burning the surface of the wood to make it black with a beautiful luster of the charcoal. A stone garden with rocks collected from the surrounding alps offers both a meeting space and an inspirational moment. A pine tree is foraged and hung in the opening between two floors in the forest neighbourhood. In the bar, a three dimensional tracking of a mountain run is manifested as a neon tube installation hovering from the ceiling. Topographic maps of the surrounding mountains are translated to a custom pattern for carpets and upholstered furniture in the conference area. Lunch meetings can be held in the glass block greenhouse filled with plants next to the canteen. The food served within On labs is plant based and the roof top garden offers plenty of herbs, berries, and fruits.

Swiss and Scandinavian Furnishings

The foundation of the furnishing is carefully selected pieces from Switzerland and Scandinavia, with the heritage of the brand in mind.

Photography by Mikael Olsson/Eduardo Perez

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- by Matt Watts