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Rolex Learning Center

SANAA Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa

Rolex Learning Center
By Lucy Bullivant -
Unifor, Zumtobel Group have participated in the project

SANAA’s Rolex Learning Center is scarcely orthogonal, cellular or conventionally institutional looking anywhere on its 88,000 m2 site.
Charged with housing a complex programme for nearly 900 students of 120 nationalities providing facilities for study, teaching, research, socialising, entertainment and administration that are now open from 7am to midnight, SANAA has set up a potent dialogue in built form between environment and learning, object and subject. Technically rigorous, informally fluid, it is an androgynous building that reflects today’s multidisciplinary, digitally enabled behaviour patterns - and does so without it feeling forced or artful.
The Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (ECAL), a top ranked engineering, technology and computer sciences campus renowned for the Blue Brain Project (reproducing a biologically accurate digital model of a mammal’s brain), is also one of the world’s fastest growing. It needed a new flagship at the heart of the campus, explained President Patrick Aebischer. A place where mathematicians, engineers, neuroscientists and microtechnicians mingle to envision new technologies, ECAL was committed to realise a unique building with slopes and terraces rather than steps and staircases. The design requires extra physical effort - although there are also pleasant glazed horizontal lifts - while it frees up one’s sense of transcending boundaries. Sufficiently rigorous and quiet to fulfil that aim without being tame or banal, it has an aura of calm and intimacy conducive to learning but without the usual institutional formality in spatial relations.
Laid out across the rectangular site, the building appears to be continuous structure with an extraordinarily flexible open plan accommodating an auditorium, study areas, two libraries, café and restaurant spaces and a bank. The surrounding topography of mountains and lake can be viewed from numerous vantage points on what SANAA...

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