EPFL gateway "Lighthouse"

“It's the first impression and will either open the door or close it.”
Nicholas Sparks, Author

It often said that one should not judge a book by its cover, but none-the less publishers and book designers go to great lengths to ensure that the covers of books are representative of the intentions of the author, and attractive enough to entice readers into the book.

A gateway, the first architectural impression of a place, city, castle or home is a significant and representative marker for the inhabitants. The gate gives the first impression of the place, and sets an expectation for the visit. But the gate is not only representative, a gateway should be an icon both of the place, but also of the “entry condition”. It should clearly communicate the message “ENTRANCE” and it is the first word in the “discussion” on way-finding or directions for further progression through the place.

The EPFL hosts over 12,000 people a day; students, researchers, teachers, workers, and visitors. A large proportion of these arrivals on campus come via public transportation, and most notably the M1 metro train. However, if the EPFL train stop is seen to be the “gateway” to the campus, then first impressions of the EPFL must be truly dismal. The EPFL station is a functional concrete platform, with little character and no style. The surroundings are the “back-side” of the EPFL, away from the lake, on the shady side of the buildings, and with the surroundings populated by the fractured results of engineering tests and discarded and broken structures.

Surely, the first impression of this world class university deserves to be representative of its stature, its abilities, and also the quality of its people. The EPFL needs a public gateway at the M1 metro stop.

The proposal for the EPFL gateway consists of a tubular form following the slope of the ramp. As the ramp goes up the form gets larger an higher. The basic tube is dynamically distorted, which gives it a soft and organic appearance. The movement of the form plays with motion of the metro. The project is a research on the use of structural glass in an architectural project. One of the basic properties of glass is, that it is usually planar. It is possible to produce single or even double curved glass, but this is expensive and difficult in production. The challenge of this project is to reproduce a complex freeform shape with planar glass.

Since the gateway is conceptually considered as outdoor space, the tubular form should not be perfectly closed. Generous openings allow natural ventilation and prevent overheat.

The solution proposed consists of a quadrilateral mesh, which absorbs the geometric shape. The edges of this mesh induce the steel structure.When applied on a freeform shape, the quads of a quadrilateral mesh are typically not planar. This means that there can only be three edge pointsof the quad in one plane - a fact that has been used to meet the requirement of the openings.

The glass panels are in fact fixed in three points on the steel structure. The fourth extremity of the glass panels are detached from the structure.The opening therefore depend on the curvature of base geometry. The glass fixed in three points braces the steel structure and is therefore astructural element.

The projecting edge of the glass panels is rounded, to smooth the overall shape. The glass is translucent which gives more a physical appearanceduring the day. During the night, the gateway is illuminated from the inside like a lantern. Like a lighthouse it marks of the EPFL metro station.