Taking risks will continue to be the order of the day for Switzerland’s premier design school under its new director.

Pictured above: Alexis Georgacopoulos, new head of Ecal (photo Michèle Laird)

Article published by http://www.swissinfo.ch in an edited form on 15 August 2011.

Recently appointed to the helm of the Lausanne University of Art and Design (ECAL), Alexis Georgacopoulos has big shoes to fill following the 16-year reign of legendary Pierre Keller.

Keller transformed the small Lausanne art school into a major design university and relocated it to a former hosiery factory in Renens, which was redesigned by renowned Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi.

Bernard Tschumi’s renovation of the Iril Factory that now serves as ECAL © Peter Mauss

The school is now regarded by design magazine Wallpaper as “one of Europe’s leading art and design schools”,  and by Business Week as one of the top ten design schools in the world.

THE NEED TO SURPRISE

As he prepares his first year as ECAL director, he tells Swissinfo how he believes that risk-taking sparks the creativity that is the key to the school’s success.  It will continue to guide the school’s visual arts, industrial design and visual communication branches, he assures.

“We need to surprise our public, as well as our students.”

Georgacopoulos is no newcomer to ECAL since he arrived as a student in 1994 and has taken an active part in its spectacular development. By the age of 24 he had become the head of the industrial design department and has clocked up a number of design successes in his own right. He is now 35 years old.

“We realised very early on that good design results from taking risks and never repeating ourselves,” he said.

He identifies three events that allowed Ecal to become an international player: a prize in 2000 for a portable bread baguette design from the Saint Etienne Design Biennal; 2001’s inventive milking stools that continue to be presented at design fairs around the world; and anti-seismic tables.

“Baguette Portable”. By ECAL second year industrial design students under the direction of Alexis Georgacopoulos, 2000. Photo ECAL/Pierre Fantys

“People said we were completely mad, but in fact we were gaining the credentials that would allow us to create innovative partnerships with the companies that wanted to take the same risks as us,” Georgacopoulos said.

Furniture and kitchen makers B&B Italia and Boffi were the first on board, followed by Swiss International Air Lines, Nestlé, Swatch Group and Baccarat to name a few of the international companies which sought Ecal’s expertise.

PARTNERING UP WITH ALESSI

More recently, Italian design company Alessi asked Ecal design students to develop projects around the theme of the office and home study. The results were presented in Alessi’s showroom during the Milan Furniture Fair in April, and will travel to Belgium as part of Design September Brussels before heading to Tokyo’s Design Tide fair in October.

Alessi’s President Alberto Alessi said of the collaboration: “I am amazed by how much enthusiasm and depth was given to analyze the single functions, by the freshness of expression in all proposals and the pleasant quest for simplicity,” adding that the collaboration will carry on.

ECAL/Alessi, Salon international du Meuble de Milan 2011. Photo ECAL/Julien Chavaillaz

“Our students jump in the deep end,” Georgacopoulos indicates of the opportunity that ECAL offers them to work on partner projects already in their second year. “They receive immediate visibility and exposure and often cultivate the relationships that will serve them well when they leave the school.”

Nicolas Le Moigne began his training at Ecal in 2001. Two years later Italian interior design company Serralunga had already started producing his inclined “Pot au mur” flowerpot .

“It was unbelievable,” Le Moigne told swissinfo.ch while on his way to Mexico, where he will be teaching in a design school. “Ecal opens so many doors.”

He is now producing a magnetic candleholder with Atelier Pfister, created by the Swiss furniture store as a launching pad for young designers.

More than design

For Georgacopoulos, Ecal is much more than a design school. As evidence, he cites Ecal’s success at this year’s the Locarno Film Festival, at which three Ecal entries received prizes in the national short film competition.

“3 out of 3! An unbelievable success!” enthused Georgacopoulos. “Ecal is an art school where creativity is used to foster ideas and explore new directions in all areas.”

The short films presented in Locarno were the result of an alliance between the cinema section and Lausanne-based theatre school, La Manufacture. The project will be presented again at the Centre culturel suisse in Paris in November.

As for the visual arts, Georgacopoulos pointed to alumni artist Cyprien Gaillard, whose work will be exhibited at the Pompidou Centre modern art gallery in Paris this autumn, and David Hominal, Valentin Carron and Philippe Decrauzat whose work is also exhibited widely abroad.

“These are artists who reinvent themselves every day, often experimenting in new mediums,” he said.

This year more than 400 people applied for the 120 places at Ecal, and Georgacopoulos said his role is to act as something of a talent scout when interviewing prospective students.

“Under the layers of insecurity, you can usually spot those who have true potential and you start imagining the kinds of projects that they can start on. This is the thrilling part of my new job,” he said.

Designer Alexis Georgacopoulos

Class photo, ECAL/Lauris Paulus

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, trained as a journalist, became an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London before moving to Switzerland, where she now covers the art beat and presides several associations.

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