EPFL architecture students explore outdoor spaces in Geneva Canton

Throughout the summer, architectural works by first-year students at EPFL’s ALICE studio will be on display at four sites in Geneva Canton: Genthod, Aigues-Vertes, Vernier and Onex. Visitors will be able to view the students’ work through a series of events, all in compliance with public health and safety measures.
In Vernier. © Jamani Caillet / 2021 EPFL

Geneva residents and tourists will be able to view the creative work being done by first-year architecture students at EPFL’s Design Studio on the Conception of Space (ALICE), led by Academic Head Teresa Cheung along with Professors Dieter Dietz and Daniel Zamarbide. A collection of their wood-built home and garden structures will be showcased at four sites in Geneva Canton after being prefabricated at the La Rasude building in Lausanne. Each structure tells a story that visitors can experience by taking a stroll or bike ride from one site to the next. The works on display will feature special events throughout the summer, albeit with limited capacity so as to comply with public health and safety requirements. 

Several joint initiatives are also in the works, including one with Walter el Nagar, head chef of Refettorio, a socially engaged restaurant in Geneva. 

Open House in Genthod

Open House is an open-air exhibition at Parc Lullin and Bains des Saugy in Genthod, where the students will present their innovative concepts for habitats and for taking the natural surroundings into account in their designs. Here, ALICE students will display two of their projects: I-Land, an island designed to provide a nurturing ecosystem for birds on Lake Geneva; and Le Héron, a lakeshore area that provides a natural transition from the land to the water, and that anticipates other installations further downstream along the Rhone.

Aigues-Vertes Village in Bernex

Aigues-Vertes Village is an assisted living center for the disabled that is similar to a real village. Here, the students took a more understated approach with seven works sprinkled from the center of the Village to the shores of the Rhone, whose designs form synergies with the surrounding environment. At the Village, the students worked with the facility’s own workshop to turn an existing wall into an inhabitable one, plant a tree and cultivate a forest and garden area on an eroded slope. A little farther out, they built a water tower that uses sediment as a filter and made a pier out of a castaway tree trunk. At the Rhone, they set up a theater stage and built an observatory on the edge of a forest.

Moulin des Frères in Vernier

On a stretch of land between the Rhone and Bois de la Grille sits a recently created park called “Au Moulin.” The park is highly popular with local residents and is also home to a wide range of plant and animal species populating the riverbank ecosystem; it also houses a community living area. The ALICE students drew inspiration for their structure from the ruins of an old watermill at the site, and had the idea of reviving that archetype by mirroring the mill’s wooden construction and connection with the river. Their structure is built on the frontier between town and country, evoking issues related to urban expansion. And because it’s strategically located on a riverbend halfway between downtown Geneva and the Verbois dam, the site is a perfect one for taking a break while swimming, paddling or simply floating down the river.

Bois Carrien in Onex

In the riverside town of Onex, ALICE students built a series of structures that bring to mind an 18th century folly garden. Their works run from the Rhone’s tree-lined shores to the more urban and industrial Grandes Communes neighborhood. The Bois Carrien woods near the center of town became a creative workspace and testing ground for the students who, during the lockdown, were eager to meet up with their classmates and get their hands dirty in the great outdoors. Under their project, titled Paysage domestique. Habiter le Bois Carrien (or “Domestic landscapes: inhabiting the Bois Carrien woods”), they built temporary, lightweight, wooden structures, all using the same construction procedure and able to be disassembled. Their works span from a bridge to a sheltered area, and can be occupied as desired by the visitors and passers-by who will escape to the woods this summer from the city crowds and heat.

Prefabricated in Lausanne

The students’ structures were prefabricated in Lausanne’s La Rasude building, where a non-profit organization called LABOR has set up a temporary laboratory. The organization is letting the students use its facilities for two years until La Rasude is torn down. The students then completed their structures at Parc Lullin in Genthod during a one-week residency program. They used a portable sawmill system developed under the Les Deux Rivières project in Genthod to construct some elements directly on site, using tree trunks there that had already been cut down. This focused the students on the cyclical aspect of wood, a natural material, and the need to preserve the environment.

Exploring Lake Geneva

With their works that will go on display this summer, the ALICE students are continuing the architectural exploration of Lake Geneva’s parks and outdoor spaces that began in 2019 with a renovation project on the lakeshore at Evian-les-Bains. The Geneva area follows Evian-les-Bains along the Rhone axis and seemed the logical next site for developing their concepts. The student teams, unable to build their structures along the Rhone and Aare rivers last year because of the pandemic, published their designs in The (Real) Book (see EPFL news article in the link below). Some of the structures built at Evian-les-Bains are still in place and are being maintained by new groups of students, with the goal of making the temporary structures permanent – which is in itself a great architectural learning experience.