(All Images Courtesy Of SANAA.)
Viewed from above it looks like a flat, wavy rectangle full of randomly placed holes-- and it's Swiss. A cheesy description, perhaps, but one that fits a glorious modernist library which opened on February 22, 2010 in the city of Lausanne. The Japanese architectural firm known as SANAA has created a single-story, slice-like structure so sublimely constructed it seems to float above the ground.
Rolex Learning Center for the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) is a single fluid space that undulates like free-flowing waves over 20,000 square meters (just over 215,000 square feet) of inner city real estate. But the deliberately park-like structure makes a densely populated metropolitan area feel like the rolling hills and fertile valleys in the foothills of the nearby Alps. Almost entirely free of interior walls, long sweeping vistas seem to erase the distinction between indoors and outdoors. There is simply never ending space.
A Wavy Structure, Full of Holes.
The Rolex Learning Center is as innovative technologically as it is architecturally, befitting its function as an engineering and computer science library for one of the world's leading scientific universities. Highly energy efficient, the center uses almost entirely natural light, with carefully controlled fresh-air ventilation systems. High-quality double-glazed windows and ceiling and floor insulation help save energy. Engineers initially said the huge wavy structure, with 14 open "holes" in the ceiling to let in light, was unbuildable, as the height and load ratios suggested it could not hold its own weight.
GPS technology create two concrete shells held aloft by fifteen arches, which are anchored to 70 underground cables. Architecture that appears seamless is actually bolstered by "the flattest concrete arches ever built." A tailor-made, cleverly concealed, and incredibly flattering foundation garment is the unseen element without which this building's haute couture perfection would collapse.
The Rolex Learning Center can accommodate 860 students, and has office space for over 100 EPFL employees. A multimedia section gives access to 10,000 online journals and 17,000 e-books, while 10 teaching area "bubbles" may be used for seminars, group work, and meetings. The Rolex Forum, an amphitheater with a 310 square-meter stage, may be used for larger events. Restaurants, cafes and outdoor patios complete the RLC, as it is known on campus. The building is open from 7 am to midnight every day. "It's very audacious, but that was the aim. We needed to invent new spaces," explained EPFL President Patrick Aebischer. "We want to become one of the best institutes of technology in the world, so we needed this kind of flagship building." On opening day, one onlooker remarked that students might be intimidated by the structure's sheer beauty: "The risk is that they feel it's like a cathedral. It’s so magical it will take time to get used to it."