SANAA's Rolex Learning Center complete

17 Feb 2010

Landmark learning space opens doors to new way of learning in Swiss city

The 'radical and highly experimental' Rolex Learning Center by rising starchitects SANAA will officially open its doors on 22 February. Part of Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the new building is used as a model for modern learning facilities.

Set across just one level with a basement, the undulating box form introduces a distinct lack of physical boundaries grouping silent and calm zones along its hills and slopes, rather than offering traditional cloistered study rooms, say the architects, adding that the resultant increased interaction will act to encourage solidarity between students.

“...the topography created by the architecture will induce architectural experiencesthat have not been felt in traditional buildings,"said SANAA’s Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. "When standing on top of the hill, you might not see the other hill but might hear faint voices, or you might not be able to see the other place but your body can sense there is a connection to another space. Unlike traditional one-room spaces, new relationshipswill emerge and we hope this will create a new type of architectural experience."

Facilities within the space include a multimedia library with approximately 500,000 volumes, a multipurpose hall with 600 seats, student workspace with 860 seats, a restaurant, bookshop and even a bank. The student association for EPFL and Alumni office are also housed in the new facility.

The building configuration of two ‘shells’ was achieved through computer simulation tofind the shapes with the least bending stresses. Inside the two shells are 11 under-stressedarches. The smaller shell sits on four arches, 30-40 metres long, while the larger shell rests onseven arches, 55-90 metres long. The arches are held by 70 underground pre-stressed cables. Constructed primarily of wood and steel, a polished looking underside is achieved by precise pouring of concrete into formwork.

Because of its flowing singular form all elements of the design had to be flexible to accommodate minute changes in dimension caused by natural and structural movements. Even the curved glass façades,including those that wrap around the patios had to be and so each piece of glass is cut separately, and each piece moves independently on jointed frames.

SANAA are fast becoming the architects to watch out for. Breaking out of Japan they have seen the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York through to completion, designed last year's Serpentine Pavilion and were chosen as architects for the new Louvre Lens addition to the famed art museum currently under construction in Lille.

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