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Continuing with our nocturnal exploration of the Rolex Learning Center at EPFL, one of our local universities … (part 1 is here).

Even though it was nearly 10pm, the place was still open and there were a few students studying inside. Standing in the middle of one of those open circular space, one can have a 360-degree view of who is in the building. We wandered into the campus, walked around underneath the ribbon-like structure, and even entered one of them.

This is what the EPFL’s press release said about the building:

The Rolex Learning Center is a large one room space. Five external patios, intimate court- yards are sympathetically landscaped with informal seating, providing outdoor relaxation areas for visitors and students. …  The floor undulations and curved patios not only softly divide the different programs but also connect in a gradual and calm manner.  …  Spread over one single fluid space of 20,000 sq meters, it provides a seamless network of services, libraries, information gathering, social spaces, spaces to study, restaurants, cafes and beautiful outdoor spaces. It is a highly innovative building, with gentle slopes and terraces, undulating around a series of internal „patios‟, with almost invisible supports for its complex curving roof, which required completely new methods of construction.

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The undulating structure looked like a landed spaceship – Close Encounter of the Third Kind-like, or it is a bioweapon research center.  The light and the glass walls gave everything inside a whitish green, eerie Sci-Fi look – that’s the impression we had that night.

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One of the major engineering issue that had to be resolved was the issue of building “perforated shells” – which gave the Swiss cheese appearance of the building (aerial view which I cannot provide, but see the official video below). Due to its unconventional form, the actual construction is an entire story of its own.

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In the beginning, one rhetoric question that was asked about investing into such a building was that, given the efficiency of electronic information distribution, why should students physically come to a building to retrieve those information – why build a library ?

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The building has been called many things during its construction: the pancake, the slice of cheese, the gadget, the layered cake of difficulties, the bad example and the Rolling Center. I suppose it can be a really good space for skateboarding too. I will return to look at the building and see how it is being used, now that almost three years have passed since its opening.

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This is the official video.

To read more, here is a link to an article by the New York Times about the building.

When writing this in 2013, I was aided by a book “Rolex Learning Center” published by EPFL press (whose office is  inside the building), a gift from a professor at EPFL. This hard back book appears to be out of print now.


But an English guide is apparently in print.



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