Rolex Learning Center
The Rolex Learning Center is above all a library and learning space devoted to the cultivation of knowledge through an array of different methods.
Af Kirsten Kiser
It has one of the largest collections of scientific literature in Europe, with over 500,000 volumes. In addition, an exciting range of new pedagogical technologies in the building, as well as the layout itself, are innovations to the public’s approach to texts and learning.
Located centrally on the EPFL campus and its new hub, the building is essentially one continuous structure spread across the site. The building is rectangular in plan but appears to be more organic in shape because of the gentle undulation of its roof and floor, always in parallel. With few visible supports, the building touches the ground lightly, leaving an expanse of open space beneath, which draws people from all sides toward a central entrance.
The most audacious aspect of the new library is its lack of physical boundaries. The large open space is defined by its artificial geography; it groups silent and calm zones along its hills and slopes, rather than offering traditional cloistered study rooms. As well as providing social areas and an impressive auditorium, the building offers up these zones as more introverted areas, acoustically insulated through changes in height.
The slopes, valleys, and plateaus within the building, as well as the shapes made by the patios, all contribute to barrier-free delineations of space. In addition, clusters of glazed or walled “bubbles” make small enclosures for small groups to meet or work together in.
Inside, the hills, valleys, and plateaus formed by the undulation often make the edges of the building invisible, and there are no visual barriers between one area and the next. Clearly, but without dividing walls, one area of activity gives way to another. Instead of steps and staircases, there are gentle slopes and terraces. Visitors stroll up the gentle curves or perhaps move around the space in one of the specially designed “horizontal lifts,” elegant glass boxes whose engineering is adapted from everyday lift design.
The topography lends an extraordinary fluidity to the building’s flexible open plan, a flow that is emphasized by fourteen voids of varying dimensions in the structure. These are glazed and create a series of softly rounded external ‘patios’, as the architects describe them. The patios are social spaces and provide a visual link between the inside and the outside.
We did not make a normal one-room space but incorporated patios and topography to organize the program such that each is separated and connected at the same time. The large one-room space undulates up and down creating an open space under the building so that people can walk to the center of the building. This enabled us to make one main entrance at the center of the building.
The Rolex Learning Center is a highly energy-efficient building which, for its low energy consumption, has received the coveted Minergie label — the standard used in Switzerland for measuring environmental excellence in buildings.