Photo: Claudine Garcia & Marcel Kultscher

Ecole Professionnelle Commerciale de Lausanne, a vocational school in Lausanne, Switzerland, exemplifies how the renovation of a building can turn it into a work of art. The educational complex, consisting of the school building and a sports hall, dates back to the early 1970s. It was given a new glass façade as part of an energy-efficient refurbishment project. Round “piezo” metal discs were integrated in the façade glass that, like the membranes of a loudspeaker, make the entire building sound like running water. As a symbolic reference to the River Flon, which flows in an underground canal in the same district, this idea was the result of a cooperation between Chiché Architectes and the artist Rudy Decelière. The architects, artist and a team of experts from Glas Trösch developed a solution to add a visual accent to the installation.

Photo: Claudine Garcia & Marcel Kultscher

The architecture of the school complex, dating back to 1971, is a typical example of post-war modernism in the region. In the 1960s, the Swiss canton of Vaud developed a school construction program that was to increase the number of schools cost effectively and in a short time in order to cope with the strong growth in the population. For this purpose, the Centre de Rationalisation et d’Organisation des Constructions Scolaires (CROCS) devised a rational construction method which became known under the same name in its abbreviated form.

The CROCS system was the basis for a total of 27 school complexes built between 1965 and the start of the global oil crisis in the mid-1970s. The buildings are characterized by their rectangular floor plans and the cubic shape of the structures, as well as the construction method. A self-supporting, modular metal support structure forms the basis for all floors and rooms, the technical infrastructure and the façade with its large window areas. Equally characteristic of buildings from this period is their problematic energy balance. While energy aspects did not play much of a role at that time, leaks and the inadequate insulation of the outer shell of buildings have proved to be symptomatic of the architectural heritage.

Revitalization With Sound Waves

Photo: Corinne Cuendet/Chiché Architectes

When Chiché Architectes from Lausanne won the contract for the energy renovation of the school complex in the district of Vallée de la Jeunesse in a competition in 2011, it involved artist Decelière in the planning of the façade from the outset.  The architects’ concept envisaged much more for the renovation than just improving the energy balance. The school complex was to gain vitality during and outside the hours of use and take up the characteristics of the original CROCS system in a new form. From the desire to meet these diverse requirements and give the building something completely new, arose the idea of constructing a glass façade in front of the building that would focus on something which had never been seen before: sound waves. They make the façade sound like the irregular murmur of running water—a symbolic reference to the River Flon, which originally flowed through the area. During the Expo Lausanne in 1964, urban planning measures canalized the river underground so that it disappeared from the landscape.

Art and Technology in Harmony

After several tests with prototypes in cooperation with the experts from Glas Trösch, the search for a technical implementation of the design concept for a new façade was successful. The SWISSLAMEX Colordesign laminated safety glass by Glas Trösch proved to be a suitable solution for the façade elements. Round “piezo” metal discs are inserted between two layers of laminated safety glass and wired so that they can each be addressed, using amplifiers, with the sound composed by Decelière. Around 13,000 “piezos” of varying sizes are aligned in the individual elements, together forming a stylized wave which extends over the entire building on 690 square meters of façade surface. The additional color foils in black, inserted between the two layers of glass, highlight the golden shimmer of the “piezos” in the sunlight. At the same time, the color-stable glass provides permanent visual protection inside without compromising the supply of daylight. In conjunction with the new façade insulation, the symbiosis of sound and image set in glass also contributes to a better energy balance and, finally, ensures that pupils feel comfortable—whether they are learning or doing sports.