During the past years, many academic institutions have started to change their teaching approaches towards what has been called ‘flexible learning’, where academic activities involve ‘a systematic combination of co-present interactions and technologically-mediated interactions between student, teachers and learning resources’. In the pursuit to create a built environment in which such learning patterns can take place and
activities can be more informally interrelated, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland launched in 2004 an international competition for the design of a new Learning Centre. The winning project, created by the Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, proposed a building based on a continuous undulated surface and ceiling perforated by courtyards where uses seemed to be loosely defined. The
competition report highlighted the capacity of the building in fitting within the university’s new philosophy and how it ‘opens up the possibility of new teaching approaches, everything being integrated into one single building as place of assembly and breeding-ground for enriching encounters and synergies’.
The present study intends to analyse the spatial system and the social patterns to be observed in the Rolex Learning Centre by the exploration of three specific qualities that pop up at first sight when observing the building – the importance of the three-dimensionality, the relation between interior and exterior and the apparent non-definition of use in space.
To do so, these three spatial features have been addressed under four sections of analysis – Spatial Form, Spatial Program, Spatial Configuration and Spatial Practice. Each section will add a new layer of perspective in the understanding of the building’s functioning. Thus, the accumulation and contrast of results will explore the role of the spatial complexity in
creating an apparent social informality, and it will also try to shed some light on the question to which extent an ideal environment for a flexible learning has been achieved.