EPFL Quartier Nord, SwissTech Convention Center, Ecublens, Switzerland, 2008–2014
Situated at the northern entrance to the EPFL campus, the SwissTech Convention Center becomes a new landmark, a clearly identifiable reference point in the landscape. The metallic shell, closely following the internal spatial configuration of the optimised main auditorium, seems to float over the glazed facades that enclose both the auditorium and the foyer, allowing a maximum of daylight to penetrate the inner spaces.
The auditorium is designed to accommodate up to 3,000 people, but just as importantly, it can be subdivided into alternative configurations to allow for a variety of smaller-scale events to take place simultaneously or in sequence. The optimisation of these spaces in their different arrangements, which guarantee impeccable sight lines and balanced distances from the different stage set-ups in each case, ultimately defined the building’s form. The question of external cladding for the shell of the convention center was resolved through a typical process of research in terms of form and materiality, leading to the selection of elongated diamond-shaped tiles in anodised aluminium.
A subtle variation in their depth reinforces the rich textural nature of the shell’s surface. The maximum capacity of 3,000 seats in the auditorium is only required on a limited number of occasions per year. The possibility to subdivide this main space in order to create other spaces that are just as suitably proportioned and optimised was part of the brief from the outset. Moveable partitions allow the upper balcony as well as the area of the parterre below the balcony to be closed off. Hydraulic platforms and rotating seat mounts allow the auditorium to be transformed into a flat, multi-purpose room or banquet hall in a matter of minutes.
The west facade of the main foyer is draped in 400 square metres of glazed panels, which include revolutionary dye-sensitized solar cells, developed by the Swiss chemist Michael Grätzel of the EPFL, to provide protection from the afternoon sun while generating 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The artist Catherine Bolle worked with the technically possible colours to achieve Le Semainier.
On the eastern edge of the site, student housing and commercial and service areas provide a clear border on the public plaza. Extending to the south to include the Metro station, shops and restaurants are sheltered by a covered gallery with the hotel and student lodgings above. The large scale of the building is mediated through a series of articulations and variations in height of the different volumes that make up the complex. Only the central bodies of the building are carried up to level eight at the top. The outer facades clad in serigraphed glass and aluminium louvers maintain a clear dialogue with the convention center, the coloured window jambs anticipate the exuberance of the inner courtyard.
Commercial and service areas open directly onto the public plaza on level two. A 70-room hotel surrounds the south courtyard, and shared student apartments are reached through access galleries around the north courtyard on level four. On level six are shared apartments around the north courtyard, and studio apartments in the southeast wing of the building. Only three wings of student apartments are carried up to level eight.
The shared apartments are arranged around the access galleries. Semi-private living spaces in turn lead to the individual bedrooms, each with it’s own private bathroom. All the bedrooms are located on the outer perimeter, with the living spaces opening directly onto the access galleries surrounding the courtyard. This interior courtyard elevation is entirely clad in individually hand painted, fibre-cement panels transformed by artist Catherine Bolle into : « Le Chromoscope ».
Studio apartments are arranged on both sides of the long interior north-south corridor running through the main wing of the building. To encourage social interaction among students, a variety of common spaces have been laid out at various points along this main internal thoroughfare. Double- or single-height spaces are closed off with brilliantly coloured glass panels, continuing the polychromatic theme of Catherine Bolle’s Le Chromoscope surounding the courtyards in the access galleries.
Architect: Richter Dahl Rocha & Associés