Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts (MCBA)

Simon Menges and Matthieu Gafsou
Barozzi Veiga

Located 62 kilometres Northeast of Geneva, Switzerland, Lausanne city dwells in a history of industrialisation and a heritage of artistic endeavours. Like many urban centres in Europe the city inherits unused industrial zones, which are then repurposed with innovative visions from creative minds—a poetic continuing dialogue of the city’s characteristics.

In 2011 Lausanne city announced Barcelona studio Barozzi Veiga as the winner of an international competition to design the masterplan for the city’s art district, Platforme 10, and its central art museum, the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts Lausanne (MCBA).

One of the initial completions for the masterplan is the MCBA, built directly parallel to the train tracks. The project is an interpretation of a renewed train station with remnants of time presented in physical forms—arched windows, elongated halls, generous heights, and direct circulation pathways. All of these elements are stripped from their decorative nature and re-presented through grey hues of plaster and terrazzo in an organic manner. Slight changes in textures with crisp meeting lines create a tactically minimalist experience.

The bar typology of MCBA architecture is observed as a monolithic volume of grey bricks with louvres of the same material cascading at full height. The main facade becomes an undulating pattern in this brutalist conjugation, contrasting the busy visual contexts of the industrial surroundings. There are instances of extruded openings and hidden windows that emit a soft light in the evening, softening up the structure to give a poetic linkage to the inner programs of the museum.

As the entrance is kept at the same level of the public plaza for a seamless invitation to enter, the inner space is divided into multiple levels that serve different functions of the museum, from permanent collection to periodic exhibitions. Exhibiting rooms are kept simple with standard wooden flooring and white walls, complemented by a waffled ceiling where running light tracks are installed. The ceiling diffuses natural light to ease the eyes whereas spotlights will navigate the audience through the artworks. This is balanced with the occasional skylights and generous windows at the main arteries of the building, enhancing these public sections with a bright atmosphere.

Revitalisation of urban leftovers requires time and effort. While it’s good to start anew, the act of reminiscing about the past and giving connections to heritage through physical preservation is an important design decision. Together with artistic and cultural activities as the agents of change, it’s commendable that Lausanne city, along with the vision of Barozzi Veiga, is conscious of this for a progressive future.

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