Located centrally on the EPFL campus, and its new hub, the building is essentially one continuous structure spread over the site. The building is rectangular in plan, but appears to be more organic in shape because of the way that its roof and floor undulate gently, 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 towards 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 lends itself to the establishment of quiet zones and silent zones, acoustically separated areas created through changes in height.
The slopes, valleys and plateaus within the building, as well as the shapes made by the patios, all contribute to these 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, though there are no visual barriers between one area and the next. Instead of steps and staircases, there are gentle slopes and terraces.
Clearly, but without dividing walls, one area of activity gives way to another. Visitors stroll up the gentle curves, or perhaps move around the space on 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 in the structure, of varying dimensions. 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. They are very much part of the building.
“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.