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We should have posted these videos and pictures two and a half years ago !  But this adventure is worth the wait.

One summer night in 2010, while IT was visiting, we had dinner in Morges. And on our way back to Lausanne, we avoided the highway and used local roads which pass the campus of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) located at the edge of the city.  We saw this brightly-lid, strange-looking structure and made this drive-by video.

We were curious and decided to explore the campus without knowing what it was. IT and I sneaked around to take these pictures, while Sue waited in the car with the engine running.

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It turned out to be the Rolex Learning Center designed by SANAA, two japanese architects – Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. With this building, they won the 2010 Pritzker prize (five weeks after the building opened), the world’s top prize in architecture!

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EPFL is one of two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, and is ranked high in engineering and technology in Europe, much like MIT or Caltech in the US. According to the President of EPFL:

A vibrating sail during the day and a magic lantern at night, the Rolex Learning Center, as imagined by the Japanese architects, possesses these singular qualities that with Sobriety and subtlety, transcend the need foe functionality in order to touch the mind and soul – binding a community together with the art of living collectively.

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SANAA beat eleven other firms to win the competition in 2004. The other firms, some with star architects included Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid, Didier Scofidio + Renfro, Jean Nouvel, and Rem Koolhaas/OMA. SANAA also built the New Museum on Bowery in NYC in 2007 which I very much admired (in fact more so then the contents on display at the time of my visit).

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The Rolex Learning Center is a traditional library, an electronic library, a network of stimulating spaces (including an auditorium), a bookstore, a career center, a lab for learning technologies, a student association, a bank, and the university publishing house.

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The internal spatial experience was unique as it has no walls to separate the reading area, the cafe, etc. yet it has identifiable zones for the users to linger, encounter and study. There were no stories and yet the floor rises and falls in this one-room space.

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We did not know at the time that the building is open to the public. The official website of the center is at: After all, we did not trespass.

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The building was named after (I presume) the company who donated the most money. The Rolex Learning Center was opened in May 2010 to much fanfare in the local press. Apparently, some members of the Rolex management are EPFL alumni.

Last year (2012), Nestle opened a new research center in the same EPFL campus. I have to return to look  around this building and take a look at the new one on campus (who built it ? what does it look like ?).

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In case you are wondering, the other lesser-known sponsors – SIPCA is a maker of security ink for printing bank notes and Bouygues is the construction company involved in building the Rolex Learning Center.

The adventure continues with more videos, pictures, and architecture lore in part 2.



  1. Been wanting to see this place in person! saw the documentary about it.

  2. very nice building. Better late than never.

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