Profile: Lorenzo Lotti
Geneva-based architect Lorenzo Lotti combines environmentally friendly buildings with artistic, functional designs.
If you search the Web for Lorenzo Lotti, you may find references to a Florentine sculptor of the Renaissance known more popularly by the name of Lorenzetto, or you may come upon an amateur of race horses, who purchased Ha Cherokee Steady, a 2003 bay mare, from the Hillis Akin Ranch in the USA on 11 September 2004.
Alternately, you will also encounter a contemporary Swiss architect who has won several architectural competitions, the most recent being a school and residential centre complex in Hermance, and whose architectural practice, AUA Architectes & Urbanistes Associés, has just completed the construction of a series of public infrastructures in a new neighbourhood in Grand Saconnex, Geneva.
Watches, chocolate, pharmaceuticals and banks are no longer the only images evoked by the label “Made in Switzerland”. Excellence in precision, technology and craftsmanship have taken on a new lease of life in the domains of sailing and architecture with the recent victory of the America’s Cup sailing team Alinghi and the world renowned team of Herzog and De Meuron, architects of the new Tate Gallery in London and an Olympic Stadium in Beijing.
First design awarded the “Minergie” label
Lorenzo Lotti’s recently inaugurated project “Le Pommier” not only has the above qualities of a product “Made in Switzerland” but it is also the first large architectural design in Geneva to be awarded the stringent environmental label “Minergie”, a recognition of Lotti’s engagement in designing environmentally friendly structures employing state-of-the-art technology to reduce energy consumption, reflecting the challenges facing all the professions involved in shaping the built environment.
On the site of the former country residence “Campagne du Pommier”, it is not apple trees but two magnificent centenary oak trees that have become the
centrepieces of Lotti’s architectural composition. One of the major qualities of the project is the manner in which the pure minimalist geometry and the abstractive repetition of the refined stone elements, as well as the glass and metallic structure, act as a frame for the only relics of this historic domain, and the contrast that is created between the “frozen music” of the architecture and the cyclically transforming space of nature, which one can interpret as a respectful homage to what the ancient inhabitants of Helvetia considered as sacred trees.
“Sequences”, as the winning design was named, is an urban ensemble serving the new residential neighbourhood in Grand Saconnex. Through a string of public buildings—a concert and sports hall, a school, a kindergarten and a community spaces building—each articulated along an urban walkway, Sequences acts as a catalyst in integrating the community and residential functions, and as a link between the existing urban context and the new neighbourhood.
Lotti’s project transitions from the dense urban space to the green open, and in the near future, an indoor swimming pool, integrated into the new park, will complete the “sequence”.
A focal point of a new neighbourhood
On a beautiful spring day, as we walk up to meet Lorenzo Lotti, who is observing the flow of young students leaving the building and parents arriving to fetch them, one of the children pauses to praise the architect for his design and convey his enthusiasm for what has become the focal public space of the new neighbourhood.
Lotti is seated on the low wall that follows the ramp leading to the entrance of the school. This wall separates the mineral promenade above from the large green space below and continues along the plaza to encircle one of the oak trees, forming a small amphitheatre in the shade of the branches. This demonstrates the attention that has been given to shaping the public spaces of the project, with equal importance being given to the external as well as internal spaces. Natural stone paving, in a warm sandy tone (yellow quarcite) covers the horizontal plane of the promenade and open spaces between the buildings, and it unfolds and rises to become a vertical plane and form the plinth of the buildings. In plan, the project has the seductive simplicity of a minimalist Modernist composition of rectangular buildings.
In the school buildings, daylight flows into the classrooms, situated on the upper floors, through large floor-to-ceiling windows oriented towards the north-west onto a curtain of trees, offering a regular and excellent quality of natural lighting. These openings also allow light to flood into the main staircase and entrance. The main school hall, situated at the lower level, has windows that open onto a landscaped, sunken patio.
A separate building houses the community activities, and with the kindergarten situated on the ground floor, opens onto an enclosed outdoor green space for recreation. Karate and judo halls are located in the lower level, while the two upper levels contain the after-school activities and the different community organizations. These elements are arranged freely as individual modules, punctuated and articulated by shared spaces to provoke encounters between the different users. Large windows allow natural light to penetrate deeply into the interior, and a system of well-selected, vibrant colours identifies and differentiates the spaces.
Colour is also employed in a subtle and dynamic manner in the external spaces and façades. The uniformity of the warm sandy stone paving of the public spaces and lower levels of the buildings contrasts with red, green and transparent glass panels, whose appearance changes with the movement of the sun’s rays, to alternate between absorbers and reflectors of light, causing the panels to transform from a vibrant red or green, to a semi-reflective and toned down colour, to totally reflective glass.
Selected as Switzerland’s representative choice
The project was designed in collaboration with the CUEPE, a research centre based at the Architecture Institute of the University of Geneva, which specializes in the implementation of energy efficient and sustainable architecture. As a result, a centralized energy-producing system for heating, cooling and hot water, passive and active energy saving devices (natural ventilation system, solar panels, optimum thermal insulation to reduce heat loss) all participate in reducing the energy consumption of the building. A ventilation system with double flow produces a building that breathes, and the external fresh air that is drawn into the building is heated through the used warm air that is being exhaled, cool air also being drawn through the ground in the warm months. Landscaped roofs participate in the thermal and acoustic insulation of the buildings, and the changing aspects of the plantations mark the passage and cycles of the seasons.
It was the notoriety of this project and its rigorous guidelines of sustainable development that led the Geneva authorities and Swiss Confederation to choose it to represent Switzerland at the International Conference on Sustainable Development (S-DEV) that took place in Geneva in October. Countries from all over the world were represented, with the presence of heads of state and representatives for offices involved in urbanism, construction and sustainable development.
Successfully combining quality with avant-garde
But Lotti’s success in combining his continuous search for quality with avant-garde ideas is, for him, not new. He has taught at the renowned architecture schools of ETHZ in Zurich and the EPFL in Lausanne for a number of years, infusing his students with his unique concept of architecture’s role in our lives.
Those familiar with Geneva of the late 1990s will also surely remember the project called “STAIRS”, a collaboration Lotti and AUA architects had with British film director Peter Greenaway. Together they conceived 100 white stairs, in 100 chosen locations of Geneva, for 100 days.
The offices of Architectes & Urbanistes Associés are located at 11, rue du Tunnel, 1227 Carouge (tel: 022-300 36 00; e-mail: email@example.com).
Article by Anna Grichting
Anna Grichting is an architect, urbanist and musician. She is currently a teaching fellow and Doctoral candidate at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.