Artists and designers sometimes have to wait a long time before achieving recognition. But so do schools, like ECAL, the Ecole Cantonal d’Art de Lausanne, which spontaneously globalised.
There may be some truth in the thought “You are what you feel.” For ever so long, ECAL, the University of Art and Design in Lausanne (ECAL), led a kind of twilit existence as a place where young people could learn a good trade. It was founded in 1821, 190 years ago, but according to the director of the design school, Alexis Georgacopoulos, it was in the last 15 years that it shed its slightly dowdy garb and suddenly became an internationally renowned school for the fine arts and design.
The previous director of the University, Pierre Keller, came to ECAL in 1995, one year after Georgacopoulos arrived as a student. Keller had an ambitious plan to change the direction of the school. “The first few years were about building a reputation from scratch,” Georgacopoulos says. “In the mid 1990s, design as a lifestyle element started to become a real mass media element.” It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what made design so popular. Perhaps, because at least one aspect of design dealt with prosaic objects, teapots, pencil holders, chairs, telephones, it was simply more accessible than art and offered young people a more stable professional future.
When Georgacopoulos began his studies, there were international students, but they were mostly from France and other neighbouring countries. Then students from Asia and the Americas began arriving in Lausanne to ingest the school’s wisdoms. The more international student body also changed the makeup of the faculty, and the next effect was increasing demand from Swiss and foreign companies wanting to do business with the school. Professionals from the world of art, design, graphic design, and photography, started to come to give week-long courses.
The University offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the fine arts, photography, graphic design, interaction design, film studies and industrial and product design. In addition, incoming students can take a foundation year in order to prepare them for the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. According to Georgacopoulos, each semester, companies partner with the school in order to allow the students to develop projects that eventually could find their way into the market. These requests can be integrated into a course; this way allows the students the opportunity to present the object to the company at the end of the semester. Prior examples of places where students have presented include furniture exhibitions and fairs in Milan and Paris.
“It’s a win-win situation for the students and the companies,” Georgacopoulos says. “The students get the recognition of having their works presented and sometimes produced and the companies discover new ideas as well as new talents” One of the most enduring and probably vapid buzzwords heard over and over again is “innovation”. “In design,” says Georgacopoulos, “little is happening barring minor changes in colours or surfaces of furniture and household items”. The industry, of course, is following its economic nose and focusing on the bottom line, which may be inhibiting true progression in design. Whether ECAL can transcend the type of consumerism that besets society today is a big question. “A school of design is there to give birth to new ideas and applications based on the lifestyles in which people live,” Georgacopoulos says.
That would seem to make the case for the beauty of the rhinoceros’s horn, as Ionesco might have put it. The occasional genius – like Lausanne’s own Yves Béhar –nevertheless will emerge occasionally, whose vision actually anticipates and shapes the trends rather than just follow them. Whether the artists essentially care about how people live and use their products may be irrelevant.
Article by Thomas Mulkeen