Rolex Learning Center: Artificial Natural Landscape

One of my favorite buildings we studied in class this semester was the Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, by the Japanese architectural group SANAA. The building program was very straightforward: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) required a library which could provide space for studying in groups or individually, housing their large collection of scientific literature (over 500,000 volumes), as well as cafés, etc. Within these basic parameters, SANAA created a very unique design.  They made an interior landscape, free of solid barriers, and with varying grade-changes which correspond to different program activities.
In plan view, the building appears as a simple rectangular shape. However, it rises and falls in height like a natural landscape when viewed in elevation. A continuous interior surface allows users to create their own paths and nodes as they see fit, rather than the designer chopping up the building into several designated spaces for activity.
I was intrigued by the designers’ manipulation of one surface to have several different heights. I created several paper models to try to emulate this concept. First, I folded a sheet of paper over itself to create the image of a space rising up from the landscape. However, what SANAA does is closer to actually lifting a section of the landscape itself and gently bending it to create the desired slopes. With that in mind, I essentially cut 3 edges from the center of a sheet of paper, pulled up the freed material, folded it over itself, and finally manipulated it with a bend in the same way SANAA did. The technique reminds me of how hills themselves are created: by shifts and bends in the earth’s tectonic plates. The beauty of the paper cut out is that the footprint of the original form is still visible.

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