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As part of the events commemorating 150 years of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Japan, an exhibition titled “JP-CH 2014: Building in Context” was held in Tokyo last October featuring five recent projects in Switzerland by four eminent Japanese architects.

“Architecture has the potential to be a facilitator for new cultural activities and exchanges between our countries, an incubator for business activities and a mediator for social connections,” said Jan Geipel, a professor at the Geneva University of Art and Design and the exhibition curator.

Among the highlights was the Rolex Learning Center designed by SANAA, an award-winning architecture firm founded by Japanese Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. The center is a multifunctional facility that includes a library, a multipurpose hall, offices, cafe and a restaurant on the campus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).

“Our mission was to create ‘a space that enables students to learn and discover something new’ and ‘a university open to the community,'” Sejima said in explaining their concept of making it a single, large room measuring 166.5 m x 121.5 m with several patios. By raising parts of the building, open spaces, curves and slopes are created, allowing people to access the entrance in the center of the building from all directions and explore the gently rolling space inside.

Nishizawa added: “This is a building like a park. In a park, you can choose your own path and discover new landscapes. Unlike conventional classrooms, in which you just sit and receive standard lessons, you can encounter diverse people, enhancing interaction.”

The groundbreaking one-story wavy building has become a landmark in Lausanne since it opened in 2010, providing the EPFL with a huge cradle for new ideas, further contributing to innovation, which is one of the country’s strengths.

Next to the Rolex Learning Center, a new cultural facility named Under One Roof designed by Kengo Kuma is under construction, and it is expected to further contribute to the social and cultural aspects of the EPFL.

In the business arena, Shigeru Ban designed the Tamedia New Office Building, which features timber as its main structural material. The building opened in 2013 and Ban will also construct the New Headquarters for Swatch and the New Production Building for Omega in Zurich.

Another big project featured at the exhibition was the Circle at Zurich Airport designed by Riken Yamamoto, who for many years has questioned the relationship between public and private spaces in his works. The 270,000 sq. meter building’s seven modules create a huge public facility, but Yamamoto said he does not want to build something “like a supermarket.”

“I want to make a space that evokes the old towns in Switzerland with “gasse” and “platz” (streets and plazas), which have survived for more than 400 years,” Yamamoto said.

This architecture will be made of extremely slender columns, symbolizing the “Swissness” of the project.

“I believe that Swissness is precision. It is not only about watches and machines, but also about the social structure from finance, insurance and medical systems to direct democracy; things constructed of component parts with detailed designs,” Yamamoto said. “I want to create such architecture for this project,” he said.

Each of these projects has the power to open up new perspectives beyond the buildings while mirroring Swiss local landscapes, which may suggest the possibilities of creative relations between Japan and Switzerland.

The architecture exhibition is scheduled to continue through 2015 at locations around Switzerland.

Download the PDF of this Davos Special 2015

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