The campus of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne was historically created around mechanical engineering. Since the early 2000s, in an effort to promote its top-level teaching, research and innovation activities, the EPFL itself undertook several redevelopment operations. The campus and the buildings were refurbished, including the ME building, built by the Zweifel + Stricker + Associates team in the early 70s, which had gradually become cramped and was rapidly deteriorating.
The new building, covering a total surface area of over 223,000 sq. ft., is spread over four superstructure levels and one infrastructure level. The project, which serves as a large-scale experimental playground and laboratory for research scientists, consists of two wings connected by a large central atrium. The building houses the administrative offices of the department of Engineering (Sciences et Techniques de l’Ingénieur, or STI), consisting of offices and research laboratories, as well as some office spaces for the department of Biology (Sciences de la Vie, or SV).
Each office is wide open to the outside world thanks to bay windows that fill the workspaces with subdued natural light. These comfortable, luminous and spacious rooms are apt spaces for long hours of research work. The atrium, a reception and social area serving the office spaces, is the beating heart of the building. Straight stairways and flared corridors flow diagonally from one level to the next and from one side to another, filling the central void with a blur of lines. Superimposed planes and criss-crossing lines create a dynamic tridimensional picture, which is deconstructed and reconstructed by each visitor passing through it. This plan turns the atrium into a fantastic spatial experience, while reinforcing its social function, by favoring chance encounters without impeding circulation.
The materials– raw concrete and metal walls, cement and PVC floors – favor a simple black-and-white palette in matt and glossy finishes. The opaque walls and glass screens create a set of perspectives into the depths of the building, turning any walk along the corridors into an original experience. Outside, the façades combine two distinct architectural styles in one common material, giving the building a contemporary allure while paying tribute the legacy of the 1970s. The metallic mesh, on the one hand, evokes the scope of mechanical engineering, while the northern façade is a direct reference to the molding envelopes of the neighboring buildings. Dominique Perrault conceived a metal mesh shell around the building, made of robotic shutters that follow the sun’s path and the users’ instructions, like a second skin.
The metallic mesh panels (stainless steel by Bluesteel, and aluminium metal mesh by GKD) are tilted away from the façade by a 5° angle, with differentslants; this juxtaposition of oblique planes looks like a woven pattern, or a hinge seen on a macro level. The raw material used to build these automated components denotes the building’s purpose as a space for scientific experiment. At night, the indoor lighting system amplifies these contrasts by showing the general layout, turning the hall into a lighthouse for the campus.