Place Cosandey


A public square designed through a collaborative process of around 30 authors, under the guidance of ALICE EPFL (Atelier de la conception de l’espace / Design studio for the conception of space). 

The Place Cosandey is a place of life. It is a large surface area where any event can take place, formally or spontaneously. It is a void underlining the beauty of the landscape, bringing the coasts and the distant mountain ranges that border Lac Léman, to the threshold of the campus. It is also a space capable of bringing people together: a setting full of potential, where encounters of all sorts happen, scientific or informal, engaged and supported by the micro-landscape of the square. 

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), has, over the past decade and a half, grown significantly in terms of students and staff, with the community numbering more than 15,000 people in 2015. This period has seen continuous constructions of new buildings across the campus, for example, the well-known Learning Center by Sanaa, the ArtLab Building by Kengo Kuma, and the Mechanical Sciences building by Dominique Perrault. The first phase of construction started on the outskirts of the city of Lausanne, in the 1970s, followed by a series of extensions, in the form of masterplans over the following decades. The spatial disposition of buildings and connecting spaces trace this history; the buildings of the EPFL campus have been conceived as functional units, attributed to faculties and disciplines, which themselves are housed in sub-units within the buildings, often separated spatially from one another. This model reflects the way sciences in western societies have been growing and enhancing their power. It models specialization and the spatial compartmentalization of functions and flows. 

Historic examples show other possible configurations for university campuses. On Thomas Jefferson’s campus in Charlottesville, the Lawn is conceived as a large public and multifunctional space, open for any imaginable activity. Likewise, the faculty pavilions and student rooms placed around the Lawn, function as a network of nodes in a spatial configuration. The layout of the plan itself generates interconnections between disciplines and people. 

The project for the Place Cosandey is the first step of the reinterpretation of the spatial structure of the existing EPFL campus in Lausanne. It proposes a common, multifunctional space, creating a new common area – a space of potential, for any activity to take place, from intimate to public, from small to large events. Further projects will enhance the importance of places and nodes in the multilevel distribution system of the campus. Existing spaces will be activated and new nodes will be added – in a thorough reconfiguration of the built structure, the campus will work towards a spatial network of diverse and interconnected temporalities and potentialities beyond the object. The Place Cosandey is therefore a moment, located in a network of transformation, towards a more urban existence.

The southern part of the EPFL Campus has seen significant mutations in recent years. The new ArtLab and Mechanical Sciences buildings were constructed, following on from the Learning Center, which proposes an accentuated relationship to the landscape and the open space of the campus. Between these buildings, the Place Cosandey remains as a leftover. This space is not articulated, and sits as the beginning of an esplanade, without spatial definition, other than that provided by the bordering buildings. The EPFL management decided that it should be up to the students themselves to design the transformation of this generous space on campus.

Between September and November 2015, the ALICE laboratory coordinated this collaboration, in the form of a series of successive workshops. In order to present a coherent project, based on the student work, to the EPFL management, the results of each workshop were translated into comprehensive concepts. In a trans-disciplinary, trans-faculty, trans-study-cycle approach, about 30 participants engaged in an intense production of documents, drawings and models, in order to superimpose ideas along a structured process, forming the core of the design process. The project was then realized, in close collaboration between the EPFL management and services, the ALICE design research team, the engineers and the contractors. A first phase was completed in November 2016, in parallel with the ArtLab building by Kengo Kuma. The second phase of construction, with the major landscape design elements and the AGORA, began in summer 2018 and ended in March 2019.

On the scale of the landscape, the project proposes an intensified relationship between the campus and its environment and exceptional setting. It maintains and enhances the opening up of views towards the skies and horizons across the lake, and offers with the Disque-project a moment of elevation, in a close visual and bodily relationship with Lac Léman. On the scale of the site, the project articulates the relationship between the ‘dense’ parts of the campus and the southern park-like part of the campus. Here the project plays a double role of square and urban park, acting as a node in an urban system, generously supporting simultaneous activities and movements, inter- twined within the existing park system around the Learning Center.

The square itself is conceived as a Supersurface; it supports all the movements, activities and events, and it correlates between the recently constructed buildings, their different surroundings and their levels. Moments of intensity articulate the space of the square, and propose a diverse rhythm, another exposure to the space, and a certain intimacy. These moments play with the square’s horizon and the strong presence of the growing vegetation– in order to exist adjacently to the flux of movements, which are becoming places of encounter and co-presence. Each of these moments have a unique relationship with movement and the surrounding horizons, as a result of their proportions and materiality. The soft contact with the attentively sanded concrete seating, or the color of the flowers in front of the diverse buildings, have been thought about with the same care as the articulation of movement at a larger scale, which now seem to reverberate off one another. 

The square has become an active place for everyday activities. The food-strip at the Parvis, in the north, has led to a weekly rhythm of small businesses and food trucks, selling meals and beverages, across cultural boundaries. Students and visitors are using the square and its surroundings as a place of leisure, exchange and play. On the other end of the scale, the square is home to large-scale events such as the Balélec, a yearly electronic music festival, drawing 15,000 people over one evening. 

As a public space, also visited by large numbers of families and Lausanne citizens, the project for the Place Cosandey embodies the objectives of the future EPFL campus; it inscribes itself into the Open Campus Initiative and responds to the newly launched Resilient Campus endeavor. It is a project conceived and lived by all. Open to the citizens and becoming part of a collective imagery, it has grafted itself into the existing potential of the EPFL campus and its surrounding environment. In its thoroughly urban nature as a place of exchange and sharing, it projects a timely spatial figure, as an expression of the future missions of research and education in our society.

EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) ALICE studio (Atelier de la Conception de l’Espace)

Dieter Dietz, Daniel Zamarbide, Arthur Blanc, Laurent Chassot, Aurélie Dupuis, Alexa den Hartog, Rudi Nieveen, Camille Vallet 

Antoine Amphoux, Guillaume Bland, Marta Martinez-Camara, Louis Chabod, Titouan Chapouly, Yannick Claessens, Benoit Cousin, Hanna Elatifi, Justine Estoppey, Rodolphe Farrando, Jasmine Florentine, Bastien Horn, Bastian Marzoli, Thibaut Menny, Francesco Montresor, Javier Perez, Mikaël Sachs, Yann Salzmann, Eda Senn, Emmanuelle Vernet 

INGENI Ingénierie Structurale 

MARTI Construction SA 

AMAUDRUZ Électricité, BAUDAT Pépinières, FORMAT-PAYSAGE Paysagiste, INGPHI Concepteurs d’ouvrages d’art, JAKOB Rope Systems, L’ATELIER DU PAYSAGE Paysagiste, REMUND Holzbau, SOTTAS Construction métallique, SRG Ingénieurs sécurité 

Foundation Lombard Odier 

see precise image credits below each picture in the data sheet & the file name 


2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
Master, Fall
Architecture, Construction, Experimentation, Landscape
CC BY Licence