The global ambassador
By Françoise Jaunin
Since the end of the 20th century, Lausanne has been a city where design is king. From launch pads like the ECAL (Ecole Cantonale d’Art) and the MUDAC (Musée de Design et d’Arts Appliqués Contemporains), it has also become the most stylish international ambassador.
Although the design of objects marked by a concern for aesthetics and balance between form and function is a recent vocation in Lausanne, it is not happening on virgin ground. In French Switzerland it was previously known as “decorative arts”. There is no long and rich tradition there either, but a pleasing one in silver smithery. From the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century – its golden age before industrial competition dealt it a fatal blow – its purity of form and grace without decoration was in great demand.
Lausanne at the end of the line
The next chapter did not begin until the 1960s. It combines several factors. First the founding, in 1961, of the CITAM (Centre International de la Tapisserie Ancienne et Moderne), which organized the first of its sixteen biennial international tapestry festivals the very next year. Textile arts were then fully blossoming with experimentation. Lausanne became the site where the story of "new tapestry" was written. The Toms-Pauli collection holds a set of the major pieces.
Then came the 1967 opening of Lausanne’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs (the future MUDAC), which by its commitment to active and innovative art – ceramics, graphic art, illustration, jewellery – became a reference and source of inspiration far and wide. And finally, 1969 saw the creation of the first section for industrial design in Switzerland in what was still called the Ecole Cantonale des Beaux-Arts et d’Art Appliqués (the future ECAL). Part of its first wave of graduates, the designers Antoine Cahen and Claude Frossard and the graphic artist Werner Jeker founded the Ateliers du Nord in 1983. Philippe Cahen joined up with them in 1988. With them, Lausanne design not only existed, but it also brought home prestigious international prizes. Coffee machines, watches, computer mice and metro trains, their creations all feature strict efficiency, formal purity and impeccable craftsmanship. They give the best of their reputation for aesthetic and technical excellence to Swiss design.
In 1995, the arrival of Pierre Keller at the ECAL triggered a change in direction and placed greater emphasis on design. The new director urged the era of "all design". But the new ECAL design – which created exposure for the school and won awards from around the world – was radically different from its predecessor. In the new movements of exchange and transdisciplinary fertilization, it flirted with the plastic arts and, combining rigour with folly, cultivated an image of inventive and playful impertinence, fluid lines, irony and unusual and poetic freshness. The new Lausanne design bears the hallmark of Alexis Georgacopoulos (ECAL department head), Adrien Rovero, Martino d’Esposito, Nicolas Le Moigne and, taken together, the Inout and Fulguro collectives.
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