Architecture in Lausanne
A network of layers
BY CLÉMENT CRÉVOISIER
The architecture of Lausanne is about slopes in all their forms, both simple and complex: hills, bridges, layers of all kinds (above-ground / below-ground, foreground / background) and tunnels.
The bishops who ruled the medieval city were the first to take possession of the eminence now occupied by the quarter known as the Cité. Their palaces, the Ancien Evêché and Saint-Maire were at opposite sides of the hilltop, while the Cathdral was at its highest point.
Visitors shouldn’t miss the opportunity to take the eight-century-old spiral staircase up to the Cathedral’s sanctuary tower. At the top, through a curtain of narrow Gothic columns, you can at last see the shape of the city, its position in relation to the lake and the mountains on its horizon.
From around 1900 onwards the area around the Church of St. Francis became the centre of a thriving economy. The buildings that sprang up on this hilltop were banks, department stores and imposing buildings with facades that proudly proclaim their place in history. There were also plans for an antenna on top of the new post office building, but as this would have been taller than the steeple of St. Francis, no one dared to carry them out. Instead, it was only 30 years later that the Bel-Air tower block – with its determined modernism – fulfilled the vertical aspirations of a generation.
In the meantime, the construction of massive bridges converted the city into a network of layers, one above the other.
In the 18th century this layering of the city was shown off to great advantage by the “campagnes”, country estates that dotted the land around it. Local aristocrats built elegant homes surrounded by beautiful landscaped parks, inviting solitary rambles with a view of the countryside beyond.
"Below-ground" refers to the Flon and the Louve, the two underground rivers that wind their way through the depths of the city. But more than anything else, "below-ground" means Lousonna, the prosperous Roman lakeside port which grew up as a result of the peacetime the Romans made possible. Although little more than the foundations remain of this notable civilisation, its remnants – the port, the forum, a basilica or temple – are among the most ancient surviving structures in the city of Lausanne. You can see them at Vidy, not far from the Roman Museum (Musée romain), which tells their story.
Although tunnels are nothing new in Lausanne (e.g. the Tunnel de la Barre, from the middle of the 19th century) they have once again become a source of architectural experimentation. A number of subterranean construction sites came into being in the 2000s, arising from environmental concerns, urban densification and the increasing need for public mobility.
The LEB train now travels underground from Avenue d’Echallens to the Flon station. The deconstructionist architect Bernard Tschumi has helped us understand the complexity of this enterprise, which superposes LEB stations, m1 and m2 metros, and the roads around the Place de l’Europe and the Grand-Pont.
There are now two options open to explorers of the city: Cimb the tower of the Cathedral (the best view of which is to be had from the Grand-Pont), or take the m2 down to Ouchy and enjoy the wide open spaces of the lake. In both cases, your choice will be amply rewarded.
Our thanks go to Nicole Christe (Department of Architecture), Bernard Apothéloz (Department of Urbanism) and Frédéric Sardet (City Archives) for their help.
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