Last year, the new seat of the parliament of the Canton of Vaud had open in Lausanne. In an exercise that seeks to strike a balance between traditional construction and new technologies, the building, designed by the Catalan architects Esteve Bonell and Josep Maria Gil in collaboration with Marc Collomb, synthesises old and new, and contributes to a regeneration of the urban fabric.
In 2007, the Council of State of the region of Vaud (Switzerland) organised an architecture competition for a new parliament building, as the old one, situated in the historic medieval centre of the city of Lausanne, burnt down in 2002. In 2009, of the 33 projects chosen in the first phase and then the five finalists, the competition’s international jury chaired by Norman Foster awarded the prize to the project designed by the Barcelona architecture practice of Bonell i Gill and Atelier Cube of Lausanne. The new building was constructed with a budget of 25,410,000 million euros. In its role as representative of this democratic institution and for its strategic location between the cathedral (built in the 12th century and reconstructed in the 19th by Viollet-Le-Duc) and a 14th-century castle, it now stands as the last piece in the puzzle, visually balancing the symbolism of the religious and military institutions.
Three aspects of the intervention are particularly worthy of note: the plenary hall and its roof, the entrance and the salle des pas-perdus. To address one of the architectural challenge of increasing the volume of the plenary hall of the Grand Conseil to adapt it to new parliamentary requirements, innovative concepts of construction and technology were used. Specifically, the floor plan of the hall gains surface area by means of a projection over the historic foundation walls, and two of its façades open up to offer views of the city, Lake Geneva, and the Alps. The project also set out to give the roof, in addition to its functional role, a sufficiently representative presence to insert the building into the urban space of the old town, between the castle and the cathedral.
To this end, it is designed with an pyramidal form that ensures environmental comfort through its skylight, and its air-conditioning system is based on the principle of ventilation of termite mounds. Meanwhile, the discovery of historic ruins in one of the walls of the entrance foyer prompted the relocation and redesign of the stairway communicating the various floors. Created in steel and wood, it rises through the triple-height space and folds to form a vantage point. Its visual impact is offset by suspending its structure using a single tie. And, finally, the salle des pas-perdus, the name given to large spaces in public buildings for walking around and meeting, has had its old stone floor recreated and its roof reinterpreted with concrete moulding. With this intervention, the architects offer a solution that avoids imitating the architecture of the past but without ignoring history. In short, they have developed “an efficient, comfortable, modern, sustainable building, creating a particular atmosphere that combines the past with the contemporary world, regenerates the urban fabric, and, using the most innovative technologies, establishes a timeless image in the historical medieval skyline”.