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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, Switzerland by SANAA

June 25th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: SANAA

Built on the campus of Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), The Rolex Learn-ing Center functions as a laboratory for learning, a library and an international cultural hub for EPFL, open to both students and the public. Spread over one single fluid space of 20,000 sq meters, it provides a seamless network of services, libraries, information gathering, social spaces, spaces to study, restaurants, cafes and beautiful outdoor spaces. It is a highly inno-vative building, with gentle slopes and terraces, undulating around a series of internal „patios‟, with almost invisible supports for its complex curving roof, which required completely new me-thods of construction. The building opened this year to the students and public on the 22nd of February and was inaugurated on May 27th, 2010.

Rolex Learning Center / EPFL SANAA ©Hisao Suzuki

  • Architect: Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA
  • Project: Rolex Learning Center
  • Location: EPFL 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Competition: 2004
  • Construction: 2007 – 2009
  • Opening: February 22, 2010

Rolex Learning Center / EPFL SANAA ©Hisao Suzuki

  • CLIENT: EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne)
  • PROJECT LEADERSHIP: Patrick Aebischer, President of EPFL Francis-Luc Perret, Vice-President for Planning and Logistics of EPFL Vincent Joliat, Project Manager
  • Team: Yumiko Yamada, Rikiya Yamamoto, Osamu Kato, Mizuko Kaji, Naoto Noguchi, Takayuki Hasegawa, Louis-Antoine Grego (Former staff: Tetsuo Kondo, Matthias Haertel, Catarina Canas)

Rolex Learning Center / EPFL SANAA ©Hisao Suzuki

  • TOTAL SERVICE CONTRACTOR: Losinger Construction SA
  • PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Botta Management Group AG
  • STRUCTURAL BASE CONCEPT: SAPS / Sasaki and Partners
  • STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: B+G Ingenieure Bollinger und Grohmann GmbH, Walther Mory Maier Bauingenieure AG, BG Ingénieurs Conseils SA, Losinger Construction SA

Rolex Learning Center / EPFL SANAA ©Hisao Suzuki

  • ELECTRICAL ENGINEER: Scherler Ingénieurs-Conseils SA
  • FAÇADE CONSULTANT: Emmer Pfenninger Partner AG
  • SECURITY CONSULTANT: BG Ingénieurs Conseils SA
  • FOOTPRINT: 20,200sqm (166.5m x 121.5m)
  • FLOOR AREA: 37,000sqm
  • NUMBER OF FLOORS: 1 Basement + 1 Main

Rolex Learning Center / EPFL SANAA ©Hisao Suzuki

The main library, containing 500,000 printed works, is one of the largest scientific collections in Europe; four large study areas can accommodate 860 students with office space for over 100 EPFL and other employees; a state-of-the-art multimedia library gives access to 12,000 online journals and over 20,000 e-books, with advanced lending machines and systems for bibliographic search; a study center for use by postgraduate researchers provides access to the university‟s major archive and research collection, and there are learning areas including 10 „bubbles‟ for seminars, group work and other meetings.

Rolex Learning Center / EPFL SANAA ©Hisao Suzuki

The Rolex Forum, an amphitheatre with a stage of 310m2 is a venue for up to 600 people, to be used for conferences, lectures, performances and other large scale events. A variety of catering outlets includes a self-service cafeteria and, at one of the summits of the building, a high quality restaurant with outstanding views of Lake Geneva and the Alps, all open to the public. Everybody, including those outside EPFL, can come to consult books or to work on the premises.

Rolex Learning Center within the EPFL campus © EPFL / Alain Herzog

The Rolex Learning Center is a large one room space. Five external patios, intimate court-yards are sympathetically landscaped with informal seating, providing outdoor relaxation ar-eas for visitors and students. The building undulates, lifting up along each of its sides to allow visitors to enter through one main central entrance. The floor undulations and curved patios not only softly divide the different programs but also connect in a gradual and calm manner. In comparison to traditional study spaces, where corridors and classrooms are clearly sepa-rated, we hope that there will be many different ways to use the new space and that there will be more active interaction, which in turn will trigger new activities.

Portrait of Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima SANAA © Takashi Okamoto

“The Rolex Learning Center,” Patrick Aebischer, President of EPFL, said, “exemplifies our university as a place where traditional boundaries between disciplines are broken down, where mathematicians and engineers meet with neuroscientists and microtechnicians to en-vision new technologies that improve lives. We invite the public into this space to convey the message that working in science is working for the advancement of society.”

Rolex Learning Center / EPFL SANAA ©Hisao Suzuki

A Building for Learning
The Rolex Learning Center is above all a library and learning space devoted to the cultivation of knowledge by an array of different methods. It has one of the largest collections of scientific literature in Europe, with over 500,000 volumes. In addition, an exciting range of new peda-gogical technologies in the building, as well as the layout itself, are innovations to the public‟s approach to texts and learning.

Rolex Learning Center / EPFL SANAA ©Hisao Suzuki

The most audacious aspect of the new library is its lack of physical boundaries. The large open space is defined by its artificial geography – an interior landscape. It groups silent and calm zones along its hills and slopes, rather than offering traditional cloistered study rooms. Recognizing the importance of social interaction to learning, the open space experience en-courages solidarity between students in the struggle to obtain the best individual academic results, and an open flow of ideas to improve collaborative efforts.

Rolex Learning Center / EPFL SANAA ©Hisao Suzuki

Book loans can be done en masse – with RFID students can check a pile of books out and return them by placing the pile on an electronic shelf along with their card. As the technology progresses, it should also be possible to locate a book on the shelves using a smart-phone app.

Since its move to the new campus in 1968, EPFL has purchased a number of important anti-que volumes of scientific literature. The collection comprises rare editions dating from the 16th century, which include works by Newton and Galileo, and will be housed in a special display case as a central feature of the new building.

The CRAFT Laboratory is the Center for Research and Support of Training and its Technolo-gies – an avant-garde approach that combines computer interfaces with real world interaction to improve learning techniques and spaces. Already developed learning technologies for the CRAFT lab include interactive furniture, paper/computer interfaces, and eye-tracking devices.
Future technologies for the new library are already on the drawing board. They are exten-sions of previously developed CRAFT technologies adapted to the new learning environment. Among the proposed future technologies is an interactive lamp fitted to existing tables. It would allow the public to project short messages onto the wall or ceiling of the building, indi-cating study themes, moods, or an appropriate level of noise for the area. Along the same theme, a real-time map of the building could indicate the noise levels of different areas in li-brary, or show the texts the users have typed into the tables.

Designed by the Japanese architectural practice SANAA, led by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the Rolex Learning Center is a radical and highly experimental building, designed for new ways of study and interaction in the 21st century.

Located centrally on the EPFL campus – as its new hub – the building is essentially one con-tinuous structure spread over an area of 22,000m2: The building is rectangular in plan, but appears to be more organic in shape because of the way that its roof and floor undulate gent-ly, always in parallel. With few visible supports, the building touches the ground lightly, leav-ing an expanse of open space beneath which draws people from all sides towards a central entrance.

Inside, the hills, valleys and plateaus formed by the undulation often make the edges of the building invisible, though there are no visual barriers between one area and the next. Instead of steps and staircases, there are gentle slopes and terraces. Clearly, but without dividing walls, one area of activity gives way to another. Visitors stroll up the gentle curves, or perhaps move around the space on one of the specially designed „horizontal lifts‟, elegant glass box-es, whose engineering is adapted from everyday lift design.

As well as providing social areas and an impressive auditorium, the building lends itself to the establishment of quiet zones and silent zones, acoustically separated areas created through changes in height. The slopes, valleys and plateaus within the building, as well as the shapes made by the patios, all contribute to these barrier-free delineations of space. In addition, clus-ters of glazed or walled „bubbles‟ make small enclosures for small groups to meet or work together in.

The topography lends an extraordinary fluidity to the building‟s flexible open plan – a flow that is emphasized by fourteen voids in the structure, of varying dimensions. These are glazed and create a series of softly rounded courtyards or external „patios‟, as the architects describe them. The patios are social spaces and provide a visual link between the inside and the out-side. They are very much part of the building.
From the higher areas, visitors may enjoy views not only of the campus but, spectacularly, of Lake Geneva and the Alps.

With all its unity and variety, the Rolex Learning Center is, as described by Kazuyo Sejima on the announcement that SANAA had won the architectural competition, an „intimate public space‟.

The Rolex Learning Center embodies the aims and philosophy of the EPFL, setting the scene for different kinds of collaborative, cross-disciplinary research, regarded as essential to ad-vances in science and technology. It offers flexibility to use the building in many different ways, now and in the future, to absorb new technology and working methods, as they come on stream, many of them developed within EPFL itself. The building emphasises sociability, getting together for coffee, for lunch, for study, for seminars, to stimulate informal encounters between people of all the key disciplines. It is designed to be a landmark, a place people will want to visit, allowing EPFL to reach out to the surrounding community and internationally.

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Category: Educational Center

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