Jean Tschumi, 1960 © Acm-EPFL

Jean Tschumi with his son, Bernard, 1946 © Bernard Tschumi Architects

Tschumi, La Vaudoise, Lausanne, circa 1957 – © ACM-EPFL


The name Tschumi is no doubt familiar to those who work at the headquarters of Nestlé in Vevey, of Debiopharm in Lausanne, or at the World Health Organization in Geneva. The timeless elegance of these buildings testifies to the genius of a Swiss architect who stood outside the conventions of the post-war era. Now, a lovingly composed retrospective at Archizoom, an exhibition and conference space at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, retraces his too-brief career.

Tschumi, Nestlé Headquarters, Vevey

Great architecture stands the test of time. So when Bernard Tschumi was recently congratulated by the current owners of the former André building in Lausanne for such a wonderful design, he had a reason to smile: it was his father, not he, who in 1959 designed the futuristic structure that now serves as the headquarters for Debiopharm. Even today, it is difficult to believe that the perfect triangle seven stories tall, pointing towards the lake and delicately framed by regal cedars, is half a century old.

Tschumi, André & Cie, 1960 – siavd

On the occasion of the inauguration of the exhibition dedicated to Jean Tschumi on 18 September, his son, Bernard Tschumi, a world renowned architect is his own right, spoke tellingly of how his father never entered into the confrontational dialectics of architectural schools. While Modernism was attempting to tear the teaching of architecture out of the Beaux Arts, and when Post-Modernism was pitted against Constructivism, Jean Tschumi, travelling between Paris and Lausanne, quietly explored the potential of the new construction materials.

It is precisely Jean Tschumi’s capacity to allow materials to speak for themselves that explains what Bernard qualifies as the sensuality of his buildings. The designs are not capricious, ostentatious or exuberant. Instead, Tschumi worked closely with the site constructors to create outlines that reflected and enhanced the landscape. Who has not marveled at the lake-transparency of Tschumi halls rendered possible by girders of phenomenal strength? Corporate functionalism meets Kundera’s Lightness of Being…

Tschumi’s work is “mass that takes to the sky,” said Inès Lamunière, new director of EPFL’s architecture department. The department is a descendant of one founded by Tschumi when architecture was still attached to Lausanne University. He taught at a time when architecture was not yet held hostage to a public enquiry process that leads to endless compromises. The simple beauty of his designs reminds us of what can be accomplished when architecture is allowed to be bold.

The exhibition “Jean Tschumi Architecture Full Scale” makes us discover a great polymath whose breadth of talent and interests spanned many areas and skills, something that his son believes was possible when the practice of architecture was “simpler”. It includes feather-light pencilings by an artist who designed furniture and the interiors of the famous ocean liner, the Normandie, at the same time as he developed grand plans of urbanism for Lausanne.

Nestlé, Vevey – Photographie Eric Ed. Guignard, 1960 © Acm-EPFL

In 1962, just short of his 58th birthday, Tschumi’s heart stopped on a night train between Paris and the Swiss frontier. And yet, through his buildings, he continues to defy time. Bernard Tschumi, whose own Flon Transit Centre will be put into operation in October when the M2 metro starts running at long last in Lausanne, or his New Acropolis Museum is finally inaugurated in Athens in February 2009, offers a father a great tribute. He has become the guardian of Jean Tschumi’s sensual intemporatlity.

The Exhibition “Jean Tschumi Architecture Full Scale” is curated by Jacques Gubler and the Archives de la construction moderne, EPFL

18 September – 24 October 2008
Monday to Friday 9am – 6pm,
Saturday 10am – 5pm


Tschumi, La Vaudoise, Lausanne © La Vaudoise

27 September during La Nuit des Musées
15:30 – a free bicycle tour organized by Lausanne Architectures will begin at LausanneRoule, Place de L’Europe
16:30 – a guided tour of two Tschumi landmarks that starts at La Vaudoise Assurances, Av. de Cour 41, followed by the university auditorium next door.

2 October at Archizoom

In order to keep the Tschumi buildings in synch with the technological demands of the 22nd Century, they have undergone extensive internal refurbishing. During a conference at Archizoom on 2 October at 18:00, Richter & Dahl Rocha from Lausanne will present their restauration of the famous Nestlé building in Vevey and Devanthéry & Lamunière from Geneva will talk of their renovation of the superb Lausanne University Auditorium.

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, was an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London, before moving to Switzerland and becoming an arts journalist.

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