Herzog & de Meuron Basel Ltd.
4056 Basel, Switzerland
Phone: +41 61 385 5757
Today, the area around the campus of the EPFL is a typical, ubiquitous Swiss city-landscape, a bit urban, a bit rural, and not really either. But this is not just any location; it is a location where two university campuses define one of the most important poles in the landscape of higher education in Switzerland. The incomparable natural panorama of Lake Léman and Alps distinguishes the location. To date, no master planning or any single architectural project has been able to exploit this extraordinary potential that would allow the location to become a vital and major centre in a future Métropole Lémanique.
Our urban vision of a Metropolis sees the entire Coast of Lake Léman as a chain of independent and yet linked cities, villages, and industrial poles, nestled in park-like surroundings, like different neighborhoods in a single city. The campus of the EPFL/UNIL and especially the project for the Learning Centre (LC) could symbolize this process of urbanization and make it clearly visible. The LC offers a unique opportunity to orient the campus towards this Métropole Lémanique. Our concept defines the LC as the first step, the initial project, in implementing the future vision of a Métropole Lémanique.
The LC project is the occasion to re-evaluate the entire area in order to create the conditions necessary for a radically new master plan – a master plan, as part of a Métropole Lémanique. This raises the following questions:
Should the Campus be made accessible to the public at large, like any other neighborhood in the city? But why should anyone from outside wander into the area? Is there anything interesting to see, anything good to eat, anything beautiful to buy, or spectacular apartments to rent? In that case, should shops and restaurants and apartments be built there? For example, special apartments for very young people or for elderly people, for example a mix of apartment sharing, on one hand, and housing for senior citizens, on the other.
Should public transport connect the campus with the waterfront? Would a cable car be necessary, like the Métro in Lausanne, which would lend the LC and the entire neighborhood a more central urban significance both in practical and symbolic terms?
Could one imagine that this location would look entirely different in 20 years? More built up and with a less controlled architectural idiom? Uglier, but also much more beautiful and much more spectacular, like a real urban area?
In order to fully exploit the potential of the LC as an integrating, iconic centre in a budding neighborhood, one must call its proposed location into question. A site in the limited perimeter of the Southern Sector would always be marginal. The circulation of people in the neighborhood is completely different today and it would be disastrous to ignore this daily flow of movement. It cannot simply be rerouted!
Since all the important urban elements, like the main circulation axis and the existing restaurants and shops, are situated in this region, it made sense to look at the extended perimeter as a possible site for the LC. We wanted to strengthen the Esplanade, which works very well, and to make it even more attractive through the topographical qualities of our project so that it would become the obvious centre, and the forum for the campus neighborhood. This led us to interpret the LC as an extension of the Esplanade and to integrate the building as an urban landscape in the north-south axis.
But what should happen in the Southern Sector? For this area we propose reversing the urban principle defined by the original master plan. Instead of integrating small, divided green spaces into the building system, one larger and more spacious green space would contain single buildings devoted mainly to public life. The Odyssea building and the Learning Centre are the first buildings to occupy the new Park. Situated in the south-east respectively and the north-west Corner of the “Greenpark” they act as landmarks and give the park a first spatial definition.
By so strongly emphasizing the central location, the public nature of the project, its urban character and the involvement of the natural surroundings, we have essentially defined the guidelines that we will follow in developing the architecture for the LC. The building is like a city, and it is also its own topography.
It is like a city because the building should perform contradictory and even almost incompatible functions. It should foster intimate study and concentration as in an ivory tower, while also being completely open to the public and public life, like a railroad station or a large plaza. It is like a topography because it is like an artificial mountain or a sloping plaza – oriented towards the mountains and Lake Léman – that invites people to enjoy and climb the building without having to take note of its content or function.
But, above all, we want to create an interior where people can see and take in everything at once but also a place that generates the atmosphere necessary for individual study. We want to develop a type of building that is suffused with an academic atmosphere and parasitic niches, with mutual and reciprocal interaction, whether people are studying or lazing around. We want a building in which the spaces, structures, façade and the urban gesture form a complete unity – utterly accessible, usable, intelligible and visible.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2004